LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Soldiers and civilians alike had the same shocked expression on their faces as they walked into the dining facility for lunch at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam on April 2.
The lunch menu always has been a sandwich bar. On this particular day, however, food service specialists assigned to the 27th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, decided to try something different.
“We prepare two hot meals a day, usually. Today we made something special for them,” said Staff Sgt. Rene Arana, a food service specialist with the battalion’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company.
The former infantryman said he has more freedom as a cook at Mehtar Lam because he gets to create fresh menu items.
“We create one specialty item, so when (soldiers and civilians) come through our line during lunch and dinner, we provide something different for them,” Arana said. “Be it a special grilled sandwich, a lobster salad, chicken wraps; we even make fresh crab cakes.”
A civilian contractor who enjoyed the hot lunch menu was Mohammed Niazi, a linguist. He said the cooks at the dining facility are always respectful and said they do an excellent job.
“We usually have sandwiches for lunch. Today I was surprised; we had tacos, which was much better,” Niazi said.
Arana said he regularly walks through the dining facility, sitting with and asking patrons for their feedback. He asks if there is something they would like to see added to the menu.
To break the monotony of serving the same meals, Arana collaborates with his soldiers in the kitchen to come up with better menu items working with what they have. One example was a turkey cutlet, which he described as looking like a hockey puck. He asked his soldiers what they could do with it to make it more appealing. One of his soldiers came up with a different way to serve it.
“We sliced it down the middle, put a slice of cheese in it, put it in the oven, make fresh marinara sauce, and there you have it, ‘turkey parmesan,’” Arana said.
“As a cook, you want to see people in the dining facility enjoy what they are eating,” he said.
Arana and the rest of the food service specialists may come from different units, but they take pride in what they do together.
“We really appreciate the cooks because they take care of their customers,” Niazi said. “My friends and I are very satisfied with what they do out here.”