PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Army Sgt. Jeffery Matthews asks himself a lot of questions.
Is the bacon crispy enough? Are the eggs too runny?
They may be standard questions for any conscientious Army cook, but for Matthews there is more to it. It’s about the soldiers of Company B, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, who go through his chow lines every day at Forward Operating Base Tillman.
“I just treat it like it’s their last meal, which is kind of sad to say, but I could be giving them the last thing they get to eat,” said Matthews, who is from Shreveport, La.
The “Black Lions” out of Fort Riley have lost three members since their arrival in Afghanistan in May. The three men passed through the chow line at some point and that realization taught Matthews and his soldiers – Spc. James Bullock of Fayetteville, N.C., and Pfc. Ryan Sims of Sheridan, Ark. – that their jobs are a vital part of life at the base.
It was a lesson they learned July 3 when Spc. Cody O. Moosman died in Gayan Alwara Mandi, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire.
“I put my heart and soul into every meal,” Matthews said. “Spc. Moosman was a good guy who would come through the line, and all of a sudden I didn’t see him again.
“I fed him his last meal and ever since that happened, I made sure all my guys stepped (it) up in the kitchen.”
Matthews and his crew serve more than 2,800 meals a week at a base where food options are limited.
“Out here they can’t go to Burger King, they can’t go to the shoppette,” Matthews said. “We’re all they have.”
After more than 20 years of cooking, including six years in Army dining facilities, Matthews said he has developed a “unique style” that allows him to improvise when resources are scarce during a deployment.
“A recipe might call for three ingredients, but you only have two,” he said. “It makes you get creative, and you find out what tastes good, and then you end up turning out a good meal.”
Matthews’ soldiers understand the importance of what they do, too. They know that they are feeding the men who are keeping them safe.
“It’s the least I can do,” Bullock said.
“The guys tell me that when they’re out on patrol they’re asking around, ‘Hey, you know what’s for chow?’ To the other guys and I, that right there makes it all worthwhile.”