Sweet home Louisiana
Transportation Soldiers bring Cajun flavor to Iraq

Story and photo by Spc. Lisa A. Cope
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION SPEICHER, Iraq — Home-cooked meals are a comfort unavailable to Soldiers while deployed, but the members of the 1083rd Transportation Company out of Minden, La., brought Cajun cooking with them to Iraq.

Roughly 60 of the 184 Soldiers in the 1083rd Trans. Co. come from a Cajun background, said 1st Sgt. John A. Salas, with the 1083rd and a Monroe, La., native.

“I always thought it was best for the unit if we broke bread together,” said Salas. “It is a physical sign that I am going to feed you; I am going to take care of you; I am going to nourish you whether it be leadership-wise, mentorship-wise, or Family wise.”

Having meals together improves unit cohesion and allows the command staff to bond with their troops, said Salas.

“It gives myself and the commander an opportunity to let what hair we do not have down, and to sit down with troops and just be Family,” he said.

Spc. David T. Fontenot, a heavy equipment truck driver for the 1083rd out of Minden, La., said he makes himself feel more at home by cooking gumbo, a traditional Cajun food, in an improvised kitchen he made at Contingency Operating Location Speicher, Iraq, for his unit.

Fontenot, an Opelousas, La., native, said he got most of the ingredients for the gumbo from the chow hall, but had to get the roux sent to him from home. Roux is a flour and oil mixture that makes the basis of gumbo, he said.

Cooking is a big deal in the Cajun culture, Fontenot said. His mother started teaching him to cook when he was 13 years old, and he is now teaching his son, who is 19.

Although his mother taught him to cook, Fontenot said his grandmother was his mentor.

“I really enjoy seeing people enjoy my food,” he said. “My grandmother was the same way.”

Fontenot, 40, said he likes to look after the younger Soldiers in his unit and cooking home-style allows him to make their deployment easier in a way.

“It does bring a taste of home here,” said Fontenot. “I see it not so much in my eyes, but in the troop’s eyes.”

Fontenot is not alone in his desire to bring a taste of Louisiana to Iraq.

Sgt. Alphonso D. Henderson, also a heavy equipment truck driver for the1083rd, said he likes being called “The Cook.”

Henderson, a Farmerville, La., native, said he barbecues for the unit after every mission.

“I love to cook,” he said. “They say they like my barbecue and I like to barbecue. I could do this seven days a week if they would let me.”

Henderson said barbecuing is a family tradition for him – his father taught him how when he was 13 years old.

Barbecuing makes him feel more at home in Iraq, he said.

“It makes me feel like I am sitting in my front yard, but without my grass,” said Henderson.

He said the key to good barbecue is time and practices.

“It takes the right amount of time,” said Henderson. “Anybody can season meat, but you got to know what you’re doing. To get the flavor out of it, it takes time.”

Henderson then smiled and patted his stomach.

“That is a full resume,” he said.


news photo
Spc. David T. Fontenot, a heavy equipment truck driver for the 1083rd Transportation Company out of Minden, La., and an Opelousas, La., native, cooks chicken and sausage gumbo for his fellow Soldiers Oct. 18, at Contingency Operating Location Speicher, Iraq.
(U.S. Army photo by: Spc. Lisa A. Cope)