BAQOUBA, Iraq — The cooks at Forward Operating Base Gabe go way beyond slaving over a hot stove to get dinner on the table.
Every day, soldiers from Service Battery, 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment put their pancake turners and tongs aside, grab their rifles and brave “RPG Alley” to get a super-sized take-out order big enough to feed an army.
Eleven soldiers man the unit’s two dining facilities, and preparing lunch and dinner in the facilities’ kitchens would be an unworkable overlap, according to Sgt. 1st Class Eric Young, dining facility noncommissioned officer in charge at the larger of the two facilities.
So instead, for dinner a couple of the cooks, all of whom rotate the duty, drive a five-ton truck in the daily resupply convoy to Forward Operating Base Warhorse, on the other side of Baqouba. There, the cooks pick up the hot entrees and side items, as well as treats such as cheesecake, ice cream, muffins and other snacks.
Breakfast is prepared at FOB Gabe, with choices such as omelets, bacon, sausage, French toast and grits. The lunch meal is usually deli-style cold cuts for sandwiches.
The threat of the dinner pickup is real: The convoy was hit last week by a roadside bomb that shattered the truck’s windows, according to Sgt. Thomas Nelson, also from Service Battery. No one was injured in the incident, he said.
The convoy has been hit by makeshift bombs several times, but none of the cooks has been seriously injured, Young said.
“I guess whether [the risk] is worth it or not to the soldiers depends on what we pick up for dinner,” Nelson joked.
With temperatures in the mid-120s and climbing, any day they bring back ice cream is a good day, no matter what the meal was. But there’s no Good Humor Man to deliver the frozen treat — although Nelson does smile a lot.
“We’re risking our lives to get some ice cream,” he said, shaking his head as if saying this brought home the reality of the danger the cooks face each day.
Although they may not always tell the cooks as much, the soldiers seem to appreciate it.
“We don’t have the variety that they have at [FOB] Warhorse,” said Sgt. Thomas Watts, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery. The facility at FOB Warhorse is contracted out to KBR and offers a main course line and short order line. “But we’re getting hot meals; I can’t complain. The portions are just right so that we don’t overeat.”
Young said that the resupply trips, although perilous, give his soldiers a break at the small, isolated FOB.
But it’s the benefit to the soldiers that makes it worthwhile for the cooks.
“We have [Meals, Ready to Eat] and could give the soldiers that,” Young said. “But you have to consider morale. Filling their stomachs with a hot meal makes them a little happier.”