By Tom Michele, The Real McCoy Contributor
Operation Iraqi Freedom became Operation Iraqi Feed'em for the
500 Soldiers of the 769th Engineer Battalion at a Fort McCoy dining
Sgt. Gregory Guidry (left) and
Spc. Travis Robinson of the 769th Engineer Battalion enjoy a
serving of jambalaya at Fort McCoy. (Photo
by Tom Michele)
The 769th, a Louisiana Army National Guard unit from Baton
Rouge, La., returned to Fort McCoy from a tour in Iraq for
Also coming to the Wisconsin Army installation were three World
Jambalaya Festival champions to cook a favorite meal for their
Command Sgt. Maj. Chad Lynch said the trio came to Wisconsin to
cook for engineer units that had deployed with the 769th from home
stations outside of Louisiana -- the 851st from Minnesota, 821st from
West Virginia, and 230th and 231st from Mississippi.
"The jambalaya trio said they wanted to cook for all four
states," Lynch said, "so they took off work and from their
families and came to Fort McCoy."
The team, all from Gonzales, La., is Jody Elisar, Scott
Duplechein and Jeff Parent.
Elisar is the 2008 World Jambalaya Festival champion cook,
while Parent is the 2007 champion cook.
Duplechein was Parent's helper. The festival is held Memorial
Day weekend in Gonzales. This year was the 41st annual event.
"We wanted to welcome our troops back home from a great
cause," Parent said.
Duplechein, said, "This is the best way we can say thanks
to the troops."
Chefs continuously stir the
jambalaya as rice is added to the pot. (Photo
by Tom Michele)
"We came because Chad (Command Sgt. Maj. Lynch) invited
us," Duplechein said. "It is an honor to come and cook for
the Soldiers. This is what we love to do -- cook meals, feed people
and make them happy. It's our way of thanking our troops, to thank
them for serving our country, so we serve them a great meal."
As for the special meal, the trio brought a 90-gallon cast iron
pot, originally from a sugar cane farm, along with 140 pounds of pork,
60 pounds of sausage, 60 pounds of onions, 120 pounds of rice and 30
gallons of beans.
It can't be done as well in a stock pot, it works better in a
cast iron pot, the cooks said. The thickness of the cast iron seems to
make a difference.
For the Fort McCoy dinner they used propane gas to heat the
pot. For competitions they prefer to cook over a wood fire.
They prepared the pot and its jambalaya contents on the
concrete porch outside of the dining hall. Then, when ready for
serving, rolled it up to the serving counter as the trio and Lynch
dished out the dinner to the Soldiers.
White Navy beans were brought from Louisiana and simply cooked
in a regular pot on the dining facility stove and served as a side
"It's a common combination, jambalaya and beans,"
Standing around the jambalaya pot
are from left chefs Scott Duplechein and Jody Elisar, Fort McCoy
Garrison Command Sergeant Major Command Sgt. Maj. M. Kevin
Dubois, Command Sgt. Maj. Chad Lynch and chef Jeff Parent.
(Photo by Tom Michele)
Spc. Michael Hole, of the 231st Engineer Team, with his home in
Gulfport, Miss., said, "The jambalaya meal was just like being
back home, especially after Army chow for a year. The jambalaya had
great flavor, some of the best I have ever had. It had a good home
feel to it."
Sgt. 1st Class Hugh Kelly, also of the 231st, and from Biloxi,
Miss., said, "Coming from south Mississippi, we are accustomed to
Cajun cooking. So this was a touch of our home and was in the middle
of Wisconsin. It was a good surprise. It felt like mother's cooking.
It was world-class jambalaya."
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Walley, of the 230th, and from Laurel,
Miss., said about the special meal, "It signified the end to a
good deployment. Good in that all of my Soldiers came home safe and
sound. The meal was one of the last times everybody from our overall
unit will be together before we all head back to our different home
stations. It is one last HOOAH! With an exclamation point."
Walley also said, "Not many people can say they ate
jambalaya from the world-championship cooks. It was great they raised
the money for the trip to Wisconsin and shipped their supplies to Fort
McCoy and came up here to prepare it."
Fort McCoy Garrison Command Sergeant Major Command Sgt. Maj. M.
Kevin Dubois said, "It was an honor to help coordinate the effort
between Command Sergeant Major Lynch and the world champion chefs and
make it a memorable event for the redeploying Soldiers."
"It shows Fort McCoy is willing to go the extra mile to
welcome home Soldiers coming back from Iraq," Dubois said.
"It was a joint effort between the Fort McCoy team and the
returning Soldiers and the visiting chefs to secure the mess hall and
getting the pallets of supplies shipped from Louisiana, making the
event a success."
The cooks noted the food ingredients and the trip to Wisconsin
were donated by the people, businesses and communities in Louisiana.
It took three pallets on a truck for the pot and supplies to be
shipped to Fort McCoy ahead of time.
Elisar said, "We simply enjoy doing it. It's a lot of
self-satisfaction and people enjoy the food. When you cook for a
family of five, an event of 5,000 or for the 500 Soldiers (from the
769th) at Fort McCoy that just makes you want to cook again. There is
also the competition edge and then the camaraderie."
(Michele is a public affairs specialist for
Eagle Systems and Services Inc., contractor for CONUS Support Base