The Last Journey

Article #20 “Soup’s On!”


19 August 2010 Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan

Once in a while there are folks that are really hidden in their professions but known on a daily basis by everyone, usually three times a day, and often more than that.  This is one of those stories that I feel I have to do because it directly affected me, every single day I was at FOB Boris.  This is about the two folks that served me breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday.  And they did it with a smile and they made do with what they had on hand.   There is no way I could not say something about these folks at the DFAC at forward operating base Boris, in Paktika province, Afghanistan. 


Sgt. Skeene, from Tennessee, runs the DFAC at FOB Boris.  He and his assistant, PFC Stone, feed no less than 100-people a day, three times a day in a location that is in hostile territory.  The first thing I noticed entering the doors of the DFAC is that it is named after a soldier, Cpl. Jeremiah Cole.  His smiling face is seen by everyone in a photograph upon entering the DFAC.  There is something about this fallen soldiers smile that permeates all who enter his memorial facility.  He was killed when a vehicle he was riding in hit a mine on August 16, 2006, in this area.  I ate at this facility on the 4th anniversary of his loss.  I prayed for his family on the 16th of August before each meal. 


I interviewed on audio Sgt. Skeene and asked him many questions about his job.  He was not always a cook in the Army.  He’s been an infantryman prior to this.  He knows first hand how important a well fed soldier is to a strong Army.  He told me some things about his family, his background being from Tennessee, his career in the Army and his downright love for preparing good food for the soldiers.  I decided to take the time to do a story on this man because I was absolutely completely startled at the food served at FOB Boris.  I knew already that it was going to be out in the sticks so to speak.  And from past experiences food of any sorts would be considered a luxury.  I was not expecting such plentiful and fine tasting meals.  Yes, there were for sure limitations at Boris due mostly to re-supply missions that generally don’t get through at all times.  All food comes in via helicopter and helicopter traffic is not so dependable due to lots of inclement weather and also constant IDF attacks.  A wise DFAC manager has to be well prepared and order properly for troops needing to be fed by him.  It is a constant struggle to make due, plan, prepare and basically whip up out of nothing something that is nourishing, tasty and in enough portions to satisfy hungry soldiers. 


Whenever I sit down to eat, I have always taken time to thank the Lord for having something to eat, wherever I am.  At FOB Boris, it was no different.  But there I was very thankful to have something to eat and more than thankful for how good the food was.  Asking around I found out that everyone there pretty much felt the same way I did.  They all knew there are times that pickens are slim, but for the most part all the young soldiers I sat with were thankful and well satisfied for a good meal and a full belly at FOB Boris. 


Right from the start, I noticed that the one cup of coffee I started my day with each day, happened to be basically, a perfect cup.  I’ve had many cups of coffee across the globe, but here, the coffee seemed just right.  Smooth, hot, not too strong, not too weak, a good coffee taste and always available.  I asked Sgt. Skeene what the heck the trick was to the coffee.  He smiled and simply said, “you have to keep the pot clean after each use, and you have to clean it well”.  It works.  I can testify to that. 


One day, we had spagetti and had a choice of meet sauce or marinara sauce.  I chose the latter and just had to have a second helping.  Now, the Italian side of me loves spagetti and I happened to toss a little tabasco sauce on it and it hit the spot right on target.  Sgt. Skeene came up to me and asked if I wanted to try some home made chicken Alfredo.  Now I was already stuffed to the max and just could not put another bit in.  He asked again and assured me that it was good, he had made it from scratch.  I declined because I am trying hard to stick to my diet.  But the fact that he offered and showed such a desire to prepare a fine meal unders such harsh condtions really impressed me.  I really enjoyed eating at Skeene’s DFAC.  Each time I went in there I made it a point to thank both he and Pvt. Stone for their efforts.  A small thank you goes a long ways in these parts.


Then there was the one day the totally flabergasted me.  Lobster.  I could not believe it.  It had been prepared just right and not overdone like I had seen in other places in years past.  It was perfect.  Although I do not put the butter sauce on anymore, the lobster I had was still perfect.  The plentiful rice and veggies that day just took my breath away.  It was by far the best meal I had in Afghanistan so far.  The beauty of it was that the surroundings were meager and the facility itself was maybe not so attractive to the unfamiliar guest.  But I know this, my experience was that each time I went there, the place was clean, the service was done with a smile and the food was always hot when it needed to be and nobody complained with a mouth full of good food. 


I could go on and on about this dining facilty and its crew but like the facility itself, good things come in small packages.  What I know of this man’s accomplishments in the food arena is that the Captain has asked that Sgt. Skeene be taken with him if they ever get moved to another location.  I’m obviously not the only one who noticed a good thing when it’s right in front of them.  I think back to the photo of the fallen soldier, Cpl. Jeremiah Cole and his smiling face upon entering the DFAC.  I’m glad it’s there.  I think it is just right for that place.  I always walked into that DFAC with a smile on my face and left with a bigger smile.  I wish one day his family would know what blessing their soldier’s photo is to visitors like me. 


Jim Spiri Last Journey