Tom Anton’s barbecues began simply: An attorney from Bakersfield, Calif., with a genuine fondness for the military, boxed up a bunch of prime cut steaks, hauled them to a ship and barbecued them for a bunch of sailors.
Anton’s first barbecue about two decades ago was followed by several more – just one man’s personal expressions of appreciation for the military’s sacrifices.
But after the terrorists’ attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, Anton’s barbecues evolved into a loosely-knit group of about 60 people, called the Cooks from the Valley, traveling like an invading army, barbecuing steaks by the thousands to weary sailors, soldiers and marines, some deployed to the most dangerous and isolated regions of the world.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Cooks have barbecued more than 70,000 thick, juicy Harris Ranch steaks for soldiers, sailors and marines. The barbecues have been held aboard ships, in military hospitals and on bases in high profile areas, such as the Persian Gulf and Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, as well as stateside. On Christmas Day 2007, four cooks, including Anton, traveled to a medical outpost in Iraq to barbecue steaks.
This month, Anton’s Cooks from the Valley flew to the Persian Gulf with about 16,000 pounds of steaks. Volunteer cooks, who bought the steaks and paid their own expenses, barbecued on July 4 for U.S. and coalition troops in four locations – at the Naval Support Activity and at Shaikh Isa Air Base, both in Bahrain; aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau in the Persian Gulf, and at Camp Lemonier, a base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, where troops stand watch over Somali pirates.
“We buy the steak, cook them and clean up,” explained Anton. “Anyone can give money. This is something we can do for the military that is allowing us to live today like it was Sept. 10, 2001. They are keeping us safe.”
“The need continues,” said Anton. “We are asking enormous sacrifices from these kids. We are creating ‘old young people.’ We have exposed these kids to things no one has seen, as these wars have dragged on and the U.S. has become the 911 responder for the world.”
With her husband, John Hardisty, freelance writer Dianne Hardisty accompanied the Cooks from the Valley to Bahrain and wrote about the trip in The Bakersfield Californian.