The cook is a soldier like everyone else // Humans of NATO Days

14.05.2023, 19:12

Soldiers need to eat too. And who cooks for them? Fellow soldiers. Hundreds of people, soldiers and non-soldiers, need to be fed at the NATO Days in Ostrava & Czech Air Force Days. Sergeant Helena Mráčková, a senior cook from the 2nd Economic Cooperative of the Logistics Company, 143rd Supply Battalion, took care of the food together with her colleagues. She revealed how the military kitchen works and how cooking for exercises takes place.

How did you get into the army?
I joined the army six years ago, through internet recruitment. I then wondered what it would be like to try a career as a female soldier. I liked the idea because the soldier is always on the move. They can constantly develop, both physically and mentally, and learn new things thanks to various courses and exercises. That's why I contacted the recruitment centre. As I am a trained cook, they contacted me within three weeks with an offer of a job as a cook at the supply battalion in Lipník nad Bečvou. For me, it was the closest possible option for commuting. So, I enthusiastically accepted the offer and am still serving in Lipník.

And how did you get the role of cook?
When I clicked on the Czech Army recruitment page on the internet, I saw that they were looking for cooks. Given my training in the field and the fact that I always enjoyed the job, it was an obvious choice.

What do you most often cook for soldiers?
We most often cook goulash both for exercises and in the canteen of the Dukla barracks. But if the soldiers could choose, they would have steaks. But they won't disdain porks chops with cabbage and potatoes either. They like tenderloin, but also classic UHO (universal brown sauce) with pepper or cumin. We will prepare just about anything.

And we cook not only for soldiers. As part of public events, we also provide, for example, children's days, where children are the main tasters. The greatest demand is again for classic military goulash or meatloaf, but also dumplings. We serve meals most often from the POKA field kitchen, which in itself is an interesting addition to any event.

Are soldiers very picky?
No. They are used to how we cook and very often praise the food. They are usually hungry at the exercise and then eat everything. In the kitchen in the barracks, they have the option of choosing from two meals. One is usually more filling, usually meat with a side dish, and the other salad or something sweet.

Is the preparation logistically demanding?
We prepare everything ourselves in the kitchen. We prepare everything from A to Z. From peeling onions to serving and washing dishes.

Cooking in the field is different. If the POKA 3/1 field kitchen is used, a driver and cooks are enough. POKA has its own power plant and water storage. Just arrive at a certain place, park, unfold, and we can cook. It is a separate unit, independent of anything else, intended for the preparation, preservation and distribution of food. With a container brewery, it is logistically more demanding. Together with it, a container with material, sumps, a water tank, and a crane to move the brewhouse on site leave. It requires a larger number of people for the position itself. The indisputable advantage of the container brewery is that we can cook 250 meals, whereas in POKA it is only 150. In addition, the container brewery is a modern, partly stainless steel, kitchen with built-in pans, pots, and a dishwasher. It is equipped with a convection oven, which is a combination of hot air and steam oven.

Is there any career progression possible in the army kitchen?
Definitely yes. I joined as a junior cook with the rank of lance corporal. I was promoted to cook, which is a corporal. Currently, my position is a senior cook and I am a sergeant. I still have another opportunity for promotion in front of me, which is the team leader of the economic platoon with the rank of staff sergeant. This is actually the highest rank that a person without a high school diploma can achieve in the army.

Read also interviews with other people participating at NATO Days

How is the cooking preparation?
The necessary ingredients are ordered and purchased according to the pre-created menu. These will be stored and taken out for practice. To feed the soldiers, the cooks get up on the first day of training and go to bed on the last night. Every morning, they divide the individual meals among themselves, i.e. who will cook what. According to the exact number of diners, provisions, or raw materials, are prepared. In general, one cook is needed for about 50 servings of simpler food. When we go out, for example, to battalion exercises, the ideal number is 15 cooks so that we can take turns.

What do you like to cook the most? What do you enjoy most about your job?
Most of all, I am happy for our great team. We are a great bunch of people. Personally, I like to cook sweet dishes the most, for example dumplings filled with apricots. I really like serving at social events. Banquets and balls, that's kind of our domain.

In addition, the cook is a soldier like everyone else, so when we are not in the kitchen, we participate in jobs such as shooting training, grenades, topography and others. And that is exactly what I expected from the army. To develop in all directions, to learn new things and to be constantly in motion.

The interview was created in cooperation with company sergeant major Mgr. Petra Nováková.

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