LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The smell of sizzling bacon, fried eggs and fresh coffee was in the air at the “Spartan Shack” dining facility at Combat Outpost Xio Haq.
While most bases in Afghanistan have the luxury of contracted cooks, food service specialists with the 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, run this facility.
Upon arriving at the outpost in mid-November, food service specialists Staff Sgt. Erica Christmas and Sgt. Kimberly Eagans jumped in spatula first to prepare Thanksgiving dinner.
“We were a little overwhelmed when we first arrived here. We didn’t have a schedule ironed out yet so we were working from 4 a.m. to midnight to make sure an adequate feast was prepared for this special day,” Eagans said.
The Spartan Shack has six food service specialists who serve 300 to 350 soldiers a day. The dining facility was originally set up as expeditionary; one generator was responsible for powering up the entire facility.
“Preparing food simultaneously was out of the question. It was more like a relay race,” Christmas said. “Eagans would finish searing some steak on the stove top, and when she finished, I would run to the oven and pop in some rolls. It was quite the undertaking.”
In an effort to keep things interesting and entertaining, Christmas and Eagans incorporate a different theme each month.
“We just celebrated the Super Bowl, so in the spirit of this time-honored game, we made sure to include all of the usual fixings. Pizza, hot wings, mozzarella sticks and jalapeño poppers all graced the menu,” Eagans said.
Soldiers of the “Spartan” Battalion are grateful for the work their food service specialists contribute on a daily basis.
“Although they have limited ingredients and supplies, they are resourceful with what they do have. Because of their continuous hard work, we never go hungry,” said the battalion’s Command Sgt. Maj. Maurice Greening.
Christmas and Eagans, with their 18 and nine years of experience in the food service specialty, respectively, bring a wealth of knowledge to their younger soldiers.
“This is a good training opportunity for junior food service specialists. We have the ability to show them tricks of the trade in the field, which is quite different than a garrison environment.
“As a mentor for Pfc. Erin Chowning, I love teaching her new recipes and techniques. When she catches on, a smile spreads across her face. She feels accomplished and, I in turn, know that I have done my job,” Christmas said.
Despite the growing pains they encountered, both food service specialists couldn’t be happier. With two previous deployments under each of their aprons, they love what they do.
“Not only do we satisfy soldiers’ appetites, but we boost their morale. When soldiers finish an 11-hour convoy, we serve them something delicious. Hot chow beats an MRE any day,” Eagans said.