Troops in Africa Get a Taste of Home for the Fourth of July

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - Julie Bosa lifts a steak for inspection by two other cooks outside of the Bob Hope Galley at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ), July 4, 2010. Bosa and other members of the volunteer cooks from the Cooks of the Valley group served steaks to the troops as part of Independence Day celebrations held at CLDJ and three other locations spanning CENTCOM and AFRICOM.  (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Frank S. Montellano) CJTF-HOA Photo CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - Julie Bosa lifts a steak for inspection by two other cooks outside of the Bob Hope Galley at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ), July 4, 2010. Bosa and other members of the volunteer cooks from the Cooks of the Valley group served steaks to the troops as part of Independence Day celebrations held at CLDJ and three other locations spanning CENTCOM and AFRICOM. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Frank S. Montellano)
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - The lines were long for chow, as military and civilian contractors waited for steaks cooked by members of the Cooks of the Valley volunteer group at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ), July 4, 2010. The steaks were bought, brought, seasoned and served by sixty members of the group, who served the Harris Ranch steaks to U.S. troops as part of Independence Day celebrations held at CLDJ and three other locations spanning CENTCOM and AFRICOM. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Frank S. Montellano) CJTF-HOA Photo CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - The lines were long for chow, as military and civilian contractors waited for steaks cooked by members of the Cooks of the Valley volunteer group at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ), July 4, 2010. The steaks were bought, brought, seasoned and served by sixty members of the group, who served the Harris Ranch steaks to U.S. troops as part of Independence Day celebrations held at CLDJ and three other locations spanning CENTCOM and AFRICOM. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Frank S. Montellano)
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - Rear Admiral Brian L. Losey, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), and Captain Darius Banaji, Camp Lemonnier commanding officer, assist with cooking steaks on a grill outside of the Bob Hope Galley at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ), July 4, 2010. The steaks were prepared by Losey, Banaji and volunteer cooks from the Cooks of the Valley group, who served Harris Ranch steaks to U.S. troops as part of Independence Day celebrations held at CLDJ and three other locations spanning CENTCOM and AFRICOM. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Frank S. Montellano) CJTF-HOA Photo CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - Rear Admiral Brian L. Losey, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), and Captain Darius Banaji, Camp Lemonnier commanding officer, assist with cooking steaks on a grill outside of the Bob Hope Galley at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ), July 4, 2010. The steaks were prepared by Losey, Banaji and volunteer cooks from the Cooks of the Valley group, who served Harris Ranch steaks to U.S. troops as part of Independence Day celebrations held at CLDJ and three other locations spanning CENTCOM and AFRICOM. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Frank S. Montellano)
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - Captain Darius Banaji, Camp Lemonnier's commanding officer, places a steak into a tray held by Charlie Lortz, a member of the Cooks of the Valley. The steaks were part of the Independence Day celebration held at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ), July 4, 2010.  The steaks were bought, brought, seasoned and served by Cooks of the Valley, who served Harris Ranch steaks to U.S. troops stationed at CLDJ and three other locations spanning CENTCOM and AFRICOM.  (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Frank S. Montellano) CJTF-HOA Photo CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - Captain Darius Banaji, Camp Lemonnier's commanding officer, places a steak into a tray held by Charlie Lortz, a member of the Cooks of the Valley. The steaks were part of the Independence Day celebration held at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ), July 4, 2010. The steaks were bought, brought, seasoned and served by Cooks of the Valley, who served Harris Ranch steaks to U.S. troops stationed at CLDJ and three other locations spanning CENTCOM and AFRICOM. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Frank S. Montellano)

While many Americans were celebrating Independence Day in their back yards grilling, 15 cooks packed up their steaks and spices and came out to Africa. Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ) troops were treated July 4th to steaks cooked by members of the Cooks of the Valley of 10,000 steaks, a volunteer organization led by Tom Anton.

This strike force is part of a larger task force of 60 cooks, mostly from Bakersfield, Calif., that flew out to barbecue for U.S. troops stationed at four locations spanning two Combatant Commands.

The cooks prepared Harris Ranch steaks on land and at sea in the Persian Gulf (CENTCOM) and in Africa (AFRICOM) to celebrate Independence Day with U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

Since its inception in 2003, Anton and his group have served roughly a quarter of a million steaks in 22 different venues, according to Jeff Peters, group leader for Djibouti.

"It's the least we could do," he said.

The list of locations they have "served" at would make for an impressive cruise jacket: Camp Anaconda, Iraq; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; USS Ronald Reagan; USS Harry S. Truman; USS Theodore Roosevelt; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. During this trip, each member of the team served 250 steaks as a personal thank you to the men and women serving at CLDJ. The 3,750 steaks were seasoned for a day and a half, according to Julie Bosa, who traveled to Djibouti from Seattle.

The seasonings, you may ask? "Well, it's a custom blend," said Bosa. Peters listed some of the ingredients: rosemary, sea salt, black pepper, and other "magic stuff." Mix it in with some fresh garlic near the end of cooking, and that is a "true taste of home." The cooks also received a visual taste of Djibouti during their time at camp. The team took a tour of Djibouti City after seasoning the steaks for the BBQ. They sampled the local culture, even purchasing pieces of artwork from the Institute of Djibouti Arts, a local school for talented musicians and artists. "The tour of Djibouti city makes us a little more appreciative of back home," said Richard Oberholzer, a cook and veteran who served in the Air Force.

The group was impressed with the food selection and facilities available on camp. "We hope we don't let you down!" Peters said before the steaks were served.

Diners at the Bob Hope Galley waited in longer than usual lines for their steaks, which were available cooked to order. As steaks were devoured, the cooks circulated, asking how the food tasted. Thank you's were exchanged back and forth; from cook to service member, from service member to cook. Captain Darius Banaji, CLDJ's commanding officer, praised the cooks and thanked them. "We appreciate your generosity and sharing what will be a memorable 4th of July with us. We are thankful for each of you bringing a taste of home to us."

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