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Camp Guernsey cooks meet hungry demand

As the Army does indeed run on its stomach, and with two large operations in June—which meant thousands of hungry soldiers—the importance of food preparation services and packaged foods reached new heights here.

This year, the dining facility, run by a locally-owned business, Twisters, took over the contract. Manager Doug Lycan dubbed it Twisters Two. Since the change, according to Kitchen Manager Michael King, who worked under the previous contractors, the dining facility has become more popular. Last year, fewer soldiers ate there, leaving high orders of food unconsumed.

There’s been a turnaround. For example, on June 19, with only 100 meals planned, a South Dakota transportation unit needed food for nine more soldiers. “People are eating; they’re excited,” King said. “They are passing the word on to others, ‘Go see the D-Fac.’ ”

“It’s 100 percent better. There’s no comparison (to last year),” said Tech Sgt. Aaron Withey, a weapons and tactics instructor on Camp Guernsey.

“It is all paid through contracts,” Lycan said. He can’t start cooking until the bill’s been paid. In that system, the groups of people eating there—the military, the Challenge Academy, the Wyoming State Highway Patrol—all need to place their orders, so that meals can be made and served on time. Lycan said food is ordered days ahead of time, and he can’t get same-day delivery when unexpected customers arrive.

His cooks have some leeway in planning menus, and King said the cooks have some freedom to make menu choices, within Army regulations. They have even more control in creating soups and deserts.

Michael Ibarra, a cook at the facility, came to the military kitchen after working in restaurants. “I’m used to fine dining and restaurants,” he said. “There isn’t much of that kind of work here, but the cooking is still fun.” Here, Michael found that the cooking involves making a large quantity of one product, versus the restaurant model of making a small quantity of a lot of different things.

“Here, it’s about calorie counts and portion size,” Ibarra said.

Although soldiers training in the field may not be able to come in to garrison to use the dining facility, units are able to order and pick up food containers twice a day at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. The food inside is insulated to keep it warm or cold.

It was one of the ways that troops got fed on Camp Guernsey during the training center’s busiest month on record. Units that brought their own cooks had the option of ordering Class A rations, the ingredients to make their own meals entirely from scratch. Then there are operational meals such as the Meals, Ready to Eat (MRE). Another operational meal served was the Unitized Group Ration (UGR).

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Raymond VanNatter of the Camp Guernsey Logistics office described the UGR as a combination of canned and frozen fruits, milk, bread, salads, and the Cafe-to-Go instant coffee for groups.

On the edge of the camp’s parade field, soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 117th Field Artillery Regiment, with the Alabama National Guard flocked to a Containerized Kitchen (CK), where their cooks prepared food for them. On a table were stacked boxes of cereal, fruit, and serving-tray sized cans of UGR breakfast foods.

According to Spc. Isaiah Hooter, a cook with the 117th, supplies were ordered long before the soldiers arrived, and the way Wyoming delivered the food was the standard. “It’s common to get supplies delivered to you in a CONEX,” Hooter said. An ice CONEX kept perishable food and a non-temperature controlled CONEX stored the “heat-and-serve” UGR meals.

Sgt. Terry Brown of the 117th likes the CKs compared with the older military kitchen trailers because they have more equipment inside. “They have refrigerators and freezers, the MKT doesn’t,” he said. Inside the CK behind Brown, cooks set up a serving line of hot breakfast UGRs in warmers.

Wyoming has largely done away with unit cooks, though there are still units that have them. However, the kitchens in armories along I-25 and I-80 are being updated. VanNatter said this was part of the state’s planning for emergency management.