Friday, November 20, 2015

Kitchen vs. Combat

It’s sweltering hot, you’re sweating profusely from head to toe, and everyone’s shouting orders all over the place; where are you? You could be in contact with enemy forces while conducting an operation that just went kinetic, or you could be inside a kitchen’s dinner service during the big rush. Although relatively minor, the similarities between the two are sometimes very real. Now don’t get me wrong, I am by no means suggesting that being a line cook in a kitchen is the same as being in combat. However, they can relate.

First, the mindset is a major aspect, in that there is a lot of planning and preparing for every mission/service. Being mentally prepared to take on any obstacle that strays from the original plan is extremely important; like an oven range or burner going down mid-service, to losing all radio communication with support elements shortly after your working dog indicates a response on explosive material. Being technically proficient to overcome those obstacles is essential to mission success. Just like in the kitchen, your skills, techniques, and the tools you’re expected to be proficient with are what carry out the mission on the battlefield, but it’s the commander and the head chef that are calling all the shots. There has to be a relationship between you and your leadership, a mutual understanding of capabilities while at the same time maintenance of order and discipline. Every graduate of The Culinary Institute of America can attest to the necessity of chain of command in the kitchen. Georges Auguste Escoffier is mentioned in just about every class here and he invented the concept of the brigade system in the culinary world. Every station has its own special task to assist in the execution of a dish; but all report to a “higher up.” When an order for a medium rare steak with sautéed hericot vert beans, topped with fried onion straws walks in, the chef calls it out, and all stations execute. Grill station is grilling protein while fry is dropping straws and sauté is firing vegetables, all while communicating what’s going on. I was a Military Working Dog Handler in the Air Force and my job was (putting it lightly) to find things that go boom. On operations where a person of interest needed to be captured all “stations” did their part. “The ticket walked in” and the location was raided. I searched for explosive making materials, while interrogators questioned captures, and the rest secured the area to ensure our safety while carrying out our tasks. The whole time the commander, just like the chef, maintained control and guidance over what was going on. Any combat veteran would find it easy to relate the kitchen and the battlefield.
On the other hand, the two can be very different animals entirely. When a mistake is made on the battlefield you could get someone killed, and that someone could be you. I’m not talking about serve safe violations either. It’s not the same as the improper handling of poultry products and having a Salmonella situation on your hands. You can stop serving that dish for the night. It could be a point man (the first person to enter a room being raided) missing the booby trap on the back door of a room that’s about to be breached. Now an entire team is out of the fight, and the entire mission has just changed. When things like this happened, those little obstacles mentioned earlier, you can’t just stop serving that dish or close the restaurant for the night; The fight goes on. There’s no tapping out or quitting when it gets too stressful. You have to keeping fighting until you’re safe from the enemy or there’s no more enemy to fight (if you know what I mean).

 Another major difference would be the overall life stress. I know many chefs in the industry would argue that the culinary industry does take a toll on your life with long hours and not being able to be home in time to tuck your kids into bed or give your wife a kiss while she’s still awake. While you’re deployed there’s no going home at all and worse, you often can’t even go to the wooden shack on the base you’ve started to call home. You’re often sleeping on the ground for several days with the only mental comfort of hoping one of your buddies doesn’t fall asleep right before something really bad happens.

Coming into the CIA I knew very little about the professional kitchen and what went on inside it. But now after working in one and attending class here I have learned to appreciate the similarities and differences between the kitchen and combat.

Staff Sergeant Adam Belward
Military Working Dog Handler
United Stated Air Force (separated)