AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- It was a blistering 90 degrees and as we walked in, the aroma of fresh bread filled the room as white speckles fell down like snowflakes. Those speckles were actually flour from forming dough to make khubuz, a traditional Iraqi flat bread with simple ingredients of flour, water, salt and yeast, then skillfully baked in a domed clay oven.
Making khubuz would be the culminating moment to a week-long training session between a U.S. Marine food service specialist and soldiers with the 7th Iraqi Army Division.
U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Shakelia Woods, a food service specialist with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, conducted training with 10 Iraqi soldiers to educate them on the Ozti Field Kitchen (OFK) in Iraq April 30-May 4, 2017.
The 7th IAD recently purchased 35 OFKs, which is a mobile field kitchen made in Turkey that is easily transportable and capable of serving up to several hundred people at a time. The OFK offers the unique capability to be quickly set up and provides an immediate solution for feeding troops on the front lines. The unit is capable of cooking, boiling, steaming, frying or baking foods. The burner system is fueled by diesel and is quiet and odorless.
“This training and equipment offers the IAD two avenues for sustaining the force as they push forward,” said Lt. Col. Ghyno Kellman, the Task Force Al Asad (TFAA) senior logistics advisor. “They can cook the food prior and deliver out to the forward positions, or they can cook on site without exposing themselves to the enemy.”
The Iraqi soldiers received instruction preventive maintenance, hands-on application of set up/tear down, and cooking methods.
“They were taught everything they need to be able to cook on this system for those troops on the front lines,” Woods said. “Now the efficiency is there, and each brigade has their own mobile kitchens to work with to ensure all of their soldiers can get the nourishment they need to carry on the fight.”
The training was requested from the 7th IAD via TFAA, which regularly conducts advise and assist missions.
“We have had a great relationship with this team, and are thankful for this useful training,” said Col. Raad Majbel Hamood, 7th IAD executive officer. “Many of our cooks are new, so we want them to learn these skills so they can teach to their own soldiers. Many of the roads have been closed and so cooking hot meals was done so by wood. This made us targets.”
The consensus all around is without this training and equipment, Iraq Soldiers would continue to unnecessarily highlight their locations with open fires.
“The Iraqis have been known to have most of their attacks in the early morning hours, and it’s undoubtedly tied to the wood-burning used to cook their meals,” said Col. Fridrik Fridriksson, TFAA commanding officer. “This training is immensely important because it has tactical measures; it will save Iraq Soldiers’ lives.”
Presented with this unique opportunity to assist their partner forces, Task Force Al Asad reached out to SPMAGTF-CR-CC, an adjacent U.S. Marine Corps unit, to generate the capability needed to conduct this training because they are not manned with a food service specialist.
Although Woods had not previously worked with an OFK, her knowledge and experience with the Mobile Kitchen Trailer (MKT) utilized by the U.S. Marine Corps allowed her the ability to conduct this mutually beneficial training.
“Task Force Al Asad is a combined joint team between the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, and our Coalition Forces, the Danish and Czechs, they all provide a great support to our efforts,” Kellman said. “We survive by having these pieces formed, like a Transformer; every piece moves and fits to where they can optimally get the job done.”
Woods, a Rosedale, Mississippi, native, has been an active duty Marine for 15 years. Being from a small, southern town, she explained the culture she grew up in, where food was the focus of many of their gatherings.
“My grandmother owned three restaurants, so we were always there, helping, cooking and just being in the kitchen,” Woods said. “Being able to share my experience and knowledge period is rewarding.”
Of the hundreds of recipes Woods has learned over the years, her favorite is basic, yet traditional.
“My favorite meal to cook is steak, rice and gravy. It’s just a basic, hearty meal,” Woods said. “During the training, the Iraqi soldiers taught me how to cook some of their traditional foods of chicken and rice, and of course the bread.”
The week-long training concluded with a ceremony and certificate presentation followed by baking khubuz.
“It was a truly heartfelt bonding moment to get to share their culture with them,” Woods said. “It allowed me to see they were appreciative of the training I gave them; to share my knowledge with them. Then to have them teach me something as well, I think was a great way to end the week. It was a mutually appreciative experience because they wanted to give me a little taste of their world. It’s important to learn other cultures and how we can adapt to helping teach the Iraqis.”
Task Force Al Asad trains Iraqi forces with operationally relevant training, an integral aspect of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, the global coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.