A San Diego-based fleet logistics support squadron has airlifted lifesaving supplies and personnel to Haiti just hours after a January 7.0 earthquake and rescued stranded New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina washed them from their homes in 2005.
But the recent airlift of 15,000 pounds of steaks and volunteer cooks from California to feed July 4 barbecue dinners to lonely soldiers, sailors and marines deployed in the Middle East and Africa posed unique challenges and contained heart-warming rewards for VR-57 members.
The loosely-knit group that calls itself the “Cooks from the Valley” was airlifted on a Navy C-40A cargo plane with top-of-the-line Harris Ranch steaks to Bahrain, where teams of “cooks” were dispatched to four locations — the Naval Support Activity (Bahrain), Shaikh Isa Air Base ( Bahrain), aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau in the Persian Gulf and Camp Lemonier, a remote base in Djibouti, Africa, where troops stand watch over Somali pirates.
“We buy the steaks, cook them and clean up,” explained Bakersfield attorney Tom Anton, who organized the group. “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.”
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the valley cooks have barbecued more than 130,000 steaks for troops in military hospitals and on bases in combat areas, as well as stateside. On Christmas Day 2007, four cooks, including Anton, traveled to a medical outpost in Iraq to barbecue steaks.
Lt. Kendra Kaufman, a VR-57 pilot who flew legs of the valley cooks’ airlift, called the mission unique because of the “diplomatic and logistics requirements of bringing civilians into multiple combat zones, as well as the challenge of transporting perishable cargo” into an area in which the temperatures are well above 100 degrees.
Cmdr. Bill Crump, the squadron’s commanding officer, said he was honored to participate in the mission because he was “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.”
About the author: Dianne Hardisty is a freelance writer in Bakersfield, Calif. She and her husband, John Hardisty, traveled with the Cooks from the Valley to Bahrain for the July 4 barbecues. She wrote about the Navy airlift of steaks and cooks for the Cleveland Daily Banner in Cleveland, Tenn., the home town of the squadron’s commanding officer, Bill Crump. The feature story also is posted on her blog.