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Cooks From The Valley

Steaks on a Plane—Navy Air Logistics Delivers Fourth of July Feasts

MANAMA, Bahrain – San Diego based Fleet Logistics Support Squadron FIVE SEVEN (VR-57) had the recent privilege of delivering Fourth of July feasts for Sailors, Marines, and Soldiers deployed in Africa and throughout the Middle East.   

The squadron transported 15,000 pounds of steak and a group of 60 civilians from the “Cooks from the Valley” organization nearly 9,000 miles to complete this mission.  The “Cooks” are based out of Bakersfield, California and are led by attorney and founder Tom Anton.  Since September 11, 2001, they have prepared and grilled over 130,000 top-of-the-line steaks from the Harris Ranch for troops deployed all over the world.  Previous barbeques served by the friendly faces from home include remote bases, ships on deployment, and hospitals for recovering “wounded warriors” such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  This year’s Fourth of July festivities were simultaneously served at Naval Support Activity Bahrain, Camp Lemonier (Djibouti, Africa), onboard the USS NASSAU (LHA-4), and at Shaikh-Isa Air Base (Bahrain).

Although a large amount of the “Cooks” come from the San Joaquin Valley in California, some of the members live in San Diego, Phoenix, Seattle, and even as far away as Miami.  They are a diverse group of men and women, consisting of doctors, lawyers, judges, students, farmers, and business owners with the common motivation:  everybody wants to give back to the men and women in uniform, and they are excited for the opportunity to serve the troops.  Each “Cook” contributed personal funds to purchase the steaks and patriotically donated time and energy to join this trip.

The “Cooks from the Valley” personally prepared, grilled, and served dinners for over 14,000 personnel on July 4th.  According to Anton, “a common response from service members is surprise, and appreciation—not only that the ‘Cooks’ are there, but that we went to such extreme measures to cook and serve them a meal.”  The gratitude is mutual.  Brad Peters, a “Cook” who is on his sixth trip states, “they (service members) are the reason we can have a safe and secure 4th of July at our homes in the United States.  Our hearts go out to everyone in the military.”   

Transporting the steaks and “Cooks” was a special mission for the VR-57 “Conquistadors,” who were chosen to fly it because of the long range, high-speed capabilities of their C-40A “Clipper” aircraft.  The Clipper is the military’s version of the Boeing 737-700/800, yet has three configurations:  to carry 121 passengers; 40,000 pounds of palletized cargo; or a combination of 68 passengers and 15,000 pounds of palletized cargo.  For this mission, the aircraft was configured to carry both cargo and passengers.  Three full pallets of steak were loaded into the cargo section of the aircraft, and additional boxes of meat and seasoning were carried in the baggage storage areas in the aircraft’s “belly.”

The mission was unique due to the diplomatic and logistics requirements of bringing civilians into multiple combat zones, as well as the challenge of transporting perishable cargo.  In order to keep all the beef (packed on ice) at a safe and regulated temperature, VR-57 pre-positioned a new flight crew at a fuel stop on the route of flight so that the mission could continue without delay.  Once arriving in Bahrain, where temperatures average well above 100°F, the meat was immediately loaded on “chiller” trucks and sent to refrigerated storage.  The “Cooks” and steaks were then divided into four groups and sent to their ultimate destinations for the Fourth of July feasts.

All four events were a success and well received by deployed heroes.  Naval Aircrewman First Class Darryl Calzo, who is deployed to Bahrain, enjoyed the steak and the sentiment behind it.  “Knowing we are not ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and that people at home are thinking about us is a great feeling.”

VR-57 Commanding Officer Bill Crump, who flew the mission said, “We are honored to be part of this mission, as we are with every mission in support of our troops.  This mission is particularly gratifying because of the involvement of the Cooks from the Valley.  I am inspired by these ‘Patriots’ not only giving of their time and money, but more importantly their genuine sincerity and appreciation of our forward deployed troops.”

“Cooks of the Valley” has a goal of serving in new locations such as Afghanistan and has already planned another simultaneous, multi-location barbeque this Veterans Day.