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Cookin' Up a Dust Storm: Marine Puts TLC Back Into Chow

COMBAT OUTPOST NUKHAYB, Iraq – In a small corner of Iraq known as Combat Outpost Nukhayb, Marines fended for themselves in the chow hall for some time. When they got a hankering for some down-home cooking, someone whipped up a meal on the four-burner stove, but without much extra time in their busy schedules, many found solace in the microwave oven. Cpl. Ryan Schmidt, a cook with Marine Wing Support Squadron 472, intends to make a few changes to the menu.

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II Marine Expeditionary Force (Fwd)
Story by Cpl. Joshua Murray
Date: 11.25.2009
Posted: 11.25.2009 01:25

For nearly two months now, Schmidt has made his mark on COP Nukhayb's kitchen and served the men and women there with the intention of improving and maintaining healthy eating habits.

"You've got a lot of Marines here who lift weights, so I've got to think about protein for them," Schmidt explained. "We try to keep a starch, meat and vegetable without a lot of sweets. I keep away from frying foods and stick with baking because it's better for them, even though it might take a little longer to cook the healthy way."

Schmidt's day consists of waking up hours before anyone else to make sure the Marines and sailors have a hot meal before the day begins, and after nearly five hours of breakfast preparation and serving, he begins dinner preparation. Lunch is the only meal the service members are expected to make on their own.

"I love it here," Schmidt emphasized. "I like seeing the satisfaction on peoples' faces when they get chow. They come in with their eyes glowing and they eat and say thanks, and at least I know that they enjoy it."

Besides a few other augmented Marines from MWSS-472, Schmidt's unit resides on Al Asad Air Base, where chow halls are enormous structures that serve tens of thousands of meals every day. Cooking for a few versus thousands holds pros and cons for Schmidt, because he appreciates the individuality he can bake, boil or sauté into every meal he serves at COP Nukhayb.

"It's not that food at chow halls is bad, but they cook it in such quantity that they can't give it much [tender loving care]," Schmidt said. "When you cook chow, you have to put your care into it and care whether or not people will like it because it's a reflection of yourself. I'd rather be here every morning cooking chow and making it my own than anywhere else."

Schmidt doesn't spend all of his time cooking alone though. A corpsman makes cooking and cleaning a nightly hobby of hers alongside COP Nukhaybs's head chef.

"Being corpsmen, we put the Marines before ourselves, and I like doing what I do with the Marines and to be able to cook chow for them as well," mentioned Petty Officer 2nd Class Anastatia Dobbs, a corpsman with MWSS-472. "It's a good way of bonding with them. It's more like a family this way because I consider Marines my family away from home."

Schmidt, Dobbs and even the occasional passerby joins in to make every meal the best with the accouterments they have at their disposal. No matter the undefined roads their deployment may take them down, those who rest their heads at COP Nukhayb can be sure at the very least, a hot meal will always be on the table.