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Cpl. Robert J. Hardesty, a food service specialist with Team Mustang, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, places a stuffing ball in a pan before baking a batch for Marines of Team Mustang at Combat Outpost Patton, Iraq, May 8. Two Marines, Hardesty, and Lance Cpl. Thomas L. Jones, a scout with Team Mustang, provide chow twice a day for the Marines of Team Mustang, who conduct patrols in the western Anbar province.

Photo by Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson

Combat cooks serve morale

11 May 2008 | Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson

Team Mustang, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, has high morale while engaging in operations through the vast deserts of western al-Anbar province, Iraq.

One reason for the high morale can be attributed to two Marines; one specializes in food service and one in infantry tactics.

“My main mission as a food service specialist is not just to support the Marines, but maintain morale for Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Cpl. Robert J. Hardesty II, a food service specialist with Team Mustang. “It’s not just the food I make, but the positive attitude I display towards the Marines as people.  I display the same thing in my cooking.”

The combat cooks are attached to Team Mustang to provide food support for those stationed at Combat Outpost Patton and the two additional compounds along Route Mobile, a major highway in western al-Anbar province.

“We are so lucky to have them here,” said Lance Cpl. Cody T. Thomas, 19, a machine gunner with Team Mustang from Conesus, N.Y. “It’s pretty motivating and you have something to look forward to after a long watch shift,” he said as he ate a turkey cutlet prepared by Hardesty.

When Hardesty checked into Team Mustang, he had help from other cooks attached to the company. However, each cook was requested to return to the battalion at Camp Korean Village.  Fortunately, Hardesty had a knowledgeable scout who claimed an additional responsibility and picked up the slack.

“I have always had an interest in cooking,” said Lance Cpl. Thomas L. Jones, 21, a scout with Team Mustang from Chesapeake, Va. “So when Cpl. Hardesty asked for volunteers, I was privileged to say yes.”

The two Marines enjoy their work from every stuffing ball baked to every steak grilled. They provide service whenever needed, using limited resources for cooking and ensuring the infantrymen conducting patrols along the highway are fed to the best of their ability.

“I take a lot of self-pride in my job,” said Hardesty, 21, from Goshen, Ind. “In order to be a cook or chef, you need to be an artist and passionate for what you do.”

He added that he will never serve a Marine or sailor rations that he won’t eat himself.

“The greatest feeling is when I see the faces of the Marines after they consume the meal and knowing how much they appreciated it,” said Hardesty. “It lets us know that we’ve made a huge difference in these men’s lives.”