Napoleon Bonaparte said that an army marches on its stomach. Why? Because soldiers in his army were more likely to perish from spoiled food than from combat. Food was so important to him that he offered a sizable financial award to anyone who could develop a reliable food preservation method (which led to modern canning methodologies, by the way).
In fact, food is so important to the military that there’s an entire strategy known as supply line combat dedicated to cutting off an enemy army from the supply line that will keep it fed. How’s that for the power of food, glorious food?
While the issues of food spoilage have been largely taken care of, and hundreds of years of experience (the first Quartermaster General was appointed in the Revolutionary War) help U.S. forces keep supply lines open, getting a palatable meal in the field is still no piece of cake. That’s where the Army National Guard’s Quartermaster Corps comes in.
“I love being part of a great Quartermaster Corps tradition,” said Sergeant (SGT) Ryan Sablan, a 10-year Guard member. “[It’s] the opportunity to support Soldiers and perform mission-critical tasks every drill that makes it a really attractive detail.”
But it’s not the only thing that makes it attractive, though. The members of the Quartermaster Corps also participate in community events. To paraphrase an old saying, “the way to a community’s heart is through its stomach,” you might say.
SGT Sablan’s Oregon National Guard unit recently participated in a Special Olympics charities event.
“It is predominantly a community relations and worthy charity event,” SGT Sablan said. “However, the food service section will be using actual field equipment and Army food program procedures to provide the necessary food product safely and in a large quantity. The Iron Chef-style competition is an opportunity to represent the Army and the Oregon National Guard on stage.”
It will also disprove a lot of long-standing misconceptions about Army food and food service.
“The Oregon Army National Guard has some very good chefs within its food service sections and we may take the competition by surprise,” said SGT Sablan. “We will even be represented by two food service specialists with formal culinary education in their civilian background.”
Starting with Armed Forces recipe cards, SGT Sablan and his team prepared delectable delights for a crowd of hungry Special Olympians, their families, and other fans at the event. But the Army is not so rigid as to expect these fine culinary artisans to keep from embellishing the basic recipes.
“Lead cooks and other section leadership sometimes enhance the end product using the proper guidance from reference materials from the State and the Army,” SGT Sablan said. “I don’t think any ingredients are a secret: it’s all about when and how you use them. I usually like to garnish with red bell peppers.”
For example, one military staple is a cream gravy with ground beef in it, served over a piece of toast. This dish is known as SOS. Since On Your Guard is a family-friendly blog, we won’t translate that, but it’s not exactly the kind of name that will make your mouth water. But to hear SGT Sablan talk about it, that’s really unfair.
“I think anyone who makes [SOS] outside of the Army makes it a little differently,” SGT Sablan said. “My dad used to serve it with hard-boiled eggs between the gravy and the toast. I spike mine with garlic and onions. Sometimes some dry sherry or white wine will find its way into the gravy. It’s not low-calorie.”
Talk about catching more flies with honey, huh? Cream, garlic, and white wine? Seriously? This is the Army?
“Ultimately, we listen to the customer,” SGT Sablan said. “So Soldiers who give feedback to us have a large amount of power over their own menu from month to month.”
And those lucky enough to have been at the Special Olympics charity event now know just what kind of tasty treats can come out of a Containerized Kitchen (CK) staffed by highly trained and dedicated Army National Guard Soldiers.
It may be even more surprising, though, how much Guard experience can help members in every aspect of their life, especially in a civilian food service career.
“[Because of the National Guard] I have been able to pay for some of my education and provide myself with part-time employment to supplement [my income]. I am a tenured food service professional and manager as a civilian,” SGT Sablan said. “The civilian food service industry is largely compatible with the Army food service program. Aside from field equipment, the Army kitchens do not contain any unique appliances or tools. In the last 20 years I’ve worked in correctional facilities, assisted living facilities, bar and grills, fast food, higher education, and family dining.”
All that said, SGT Sablan added: “I think the team spirit and camaraderie are my favorite aspects of the Guard.”