Soldiers Fuel Up with the Help of USO Cooking Program

By Ethan Steinquest

Soldiers may not always have time for a morning trip to the dining facility on base for breakfast, but that doesn’t mean they have to sacrifice a healthy meal or face the day without energy.

Retired Master Sgt. Jason Coy knows that better than most from his days as an Army cook, and he showed a few of Fort Campbell’s unaccompanied soldiers how to prep their own meals in the barracks this past September during the inaugural “Cookin’ in the Bs” class hosted at USO Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

“A better diet is key because a well-fueled soldier is a deadlier soldier,” Coy said, who is now an adjunct professor of culinary arts at Austin Peay State University (APSU).

“And time is something we’re all chasing to save. But instead of skipping that meal, being low on energy and not being able to perform well, you can whip up something quickly in the barracks room before you go to work, and that’s where I hope this leads.”

Steak sandwiches were first up on the menu, and soldiers in attendance made them step-by-step with guidance from Coy and APSU culinary students – including USO Fort Campbell Center Operations Supervisor MaLissa Harris.

“We’re always looking for programs to enhance single soldiers’ lives and the things they can do,” Harris said. “I found that this was a great opportunity to combine the two, because a lot of these young soldiers either don’t know how to cook or don’t know things they can cook for themselves in the barracks. With Chef Coy being a former soldier in the culinary world, it seemed like a perfect fit for us to collaborate.”

Harris said the goal is to develop “Cookin’ in the Bs” into a monthly program series so soldiers can learn new recipes and cooking techniques to save time and money.

“It’s a lot healthier to cook something on your own in the barracks room if possible,” he said.

Photo credit DVIDS/Ethan Steinquest

Retired Master Sgt. Jason Coy, adjunct professor of culinary arts at Austin Peay State University, guides Army Pfc. Tequila Towns, center and Pvt. Lawanda Shepherd as they prepare steak sandwiches during the inaugural “Cookin’ in the Bs” class hosted at USO Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Cooking is permitted only in properly arranged and equipped authorized locations and should never be left unattended, according to CAM Reg. 420-24 – that is, a Fort Campbell regulation.

“Cooking or use of hot plates, electric frying pans and similar small electrical appliances is not permitted in private rooms of bachelor enlisted or office quarters, barracks and similar buildings unless such rooms or areas are provided with kitchens or cooking facilities,” states the regulation.

Coy wants to inspire soldiers with recipes and cooking techniques they can use while still adhering to the base’s safety regulations.

“With these new barracks, the way they’re set up you have little kitchenettes where two soldiers share a common area with things like burner stoves and an oven,” he said. “I think the new goal should be transitioning to soldiers being able to prepare their own meals in those kitchenettes they’re provided.”

Pfc. Tequila Towns said she left the program better prepared to take advantage of those tools in her day-to-day life.

“It was very engaging, there was a lot of learning and I liked that it was hands-on,” Towns said.

“It wasn’t stressful because they understood most of us had never cooked before. I would definitely come back out to a program like this and bring more battle buddies,” she said.

Towns had some previous experience in culinary school, but many soldiers in attendance were less familiar with meal preparation.

“I’m not much of a cooking person, so this was a good experience for me to get to learn to cook better,” Sgt. Dani Weinberger said. “The main things I learned more about were the steak ingredients. I never thought about using melted cheese because I normally use shredded cheese and seeing the different cutting methods was another thing I appreciated.”

Weinberger said she is interested in attending future cooking programs at the USO and quickly signed up for the first one after learning about it through social media.

“We’re excited to see that there was an interest with the single soldiers on Fort Campbell,” Harris said.

“Not all young people learn how to cook anymore and it’s an important life skill we can teach and have fun with here at the USO. Our mission is to keep [service members] connected to family, home and country, and food is something that brings all those things together.”

- This story originally appeared on DVIDShub.net. It has been edited for USO.org

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