FORT MCCOY, Wis. –
The cook. The culinary specialist. It's a job some in the military may take for granted, but without them, Soldiers would be eating cold unappetizing prepackaged meals or resorting to hunting and foraging for their next meal.
One cook here has been providing Soldiers with hot, tasty, and nutritious meals for nearly 38 years, but his days of standing behind the serving line are coming to a close soon.
U.S. Army Reserve Sgt.1st Class Derrick Burrous is a 60-year-old culinary senior manager assigned to the 200th Military Police Company. He is currently here providing meals to Army Reserve Soldiers as part of Exercise Global Medic 2023. Global medic is a multi-component collective training exercise where forces from all components along with joint and international partners perform a collective medical training event to test their medical equipment, systems and procedures to help prepare for future conflicts.
Burrous has had a long military career, one that's taken him through all three components of the Army, spanning nearly four decades, in and around the country and around the world.
"During all my years, I learned more than anything that serving others is about selflessness," Burrous said. "I could be the best at my job, but it's not all about me. There's more to it than just self-gratification."
Burrous principles and ethics started from an early age. His father passed away when he was young, leaving him and his four brothers and two sisters to be raised by his mother in South Philadelphia. Money was tight, but his mom never led on that the family was struggling. Early on, she instilled those timeless personal values in him of selflessness, integrity, and discipline.
After graduating high school, and a failed attempt at a football scholarship at Penn State University, Burrous joined the U.S. Army in 1983.
"I joined because I didn't want to be on the street corners like the rest of my friends," Burrous said. "It was a way out."
Burrous originally wanted to be a mechanic, but his recruiter told him no slots were available. So he chose a career in something he was already familiar with, being a cook, which is something he had been doing as a civilian job for several years.
He served 12 years on active duty. During that time he experienced one of the highlights of his career by attending the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea. There he saw American track star Florence Griffith Joyner break the 200-meter world record and win a gold medal.
"The locals thought I was a star athlete or something and treated me as such," Burrous said. "I got free tickets through the military, wore some athletic gear, and got the red carpet treatment."
Burrous’ favorite duty station on active duty was near Frankfurt, Germany. He fell in love with the country, embracing the culture and loving the food.
Another highlight on active duty was Burrous’ deployment to Saudi Arabia, cooking for an aviation company during the Gulf War in 1990-1991. He described it as "roasting in the sun, staying up late playing cards, drinking non-alcoholic beer, and smoking cigarettes." Cooking for a smaller unit for eight months in the middle of the desert, Burrous developed close bonds with his fellow Soldiers, some lasting to the present.
In 1995, Burrous left active duty and entered the Army National Guard. He served part-time as a traditional Guardsman for the next 15 years in Pennsylvania and Mississippi. In 1997, when a blizzard dumped three feet of snow in the Northeast, Burrous was put on State active duty orders for the first time to help with the emergency.
"It's not too often you get called up to support a real-world scenario like that, so that was unique," Burrous said. "Anytime you get activated to support your home state, you take a bit of pride in it."
On the civilian side of life, Burrous was cooking for various restaurants, some nice, some not so much. Eventually, he gave up cooking for a job at the National Archives and Records Administration in Philadelphia as an archivist pulling file requests.
After a decade-and-a-half as a cook in the National Guard, he decided to switch component and joined the Army Reserve.
"At some point, I just decided to do it for the long haul," Burrous said of his military career. "I enjoy going to the field for annual training and getting to know my Soldiers. We all come from different walks of life and look at things through different lenses, but the common bond is the teamwork that happens to achieve a common goal, and when it all comes together, it's amazing."
Burrous is on his final annual training with the military - his last set of orders just shy of four decades. "It's time," he said. “The sun is setting on this Soldier's career."
Aside from selflessness, the takeaways from his career are knowing your job, passing knowledge onto the junior Soldiers, and appreciating what the Army has to offer.
"This is a job with little glory," Burrous said. "We do the best we can, and we work hard. Sometimes, it goes unappreciated, but I don't let it get to me. You do your job and do it with passion."
Although he will be hanging his Army uniform up soon, Burrous is looking to the future, and hopes to open a restaurant when he retires. He said it will be a quiet little spot where he can continue to serve meals to his customers and friends. A spot where "all the fellas can hang out.”