FORT LEE, Va. –
U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Alexis Holfeltz is an archaeologist by civilian trade and an Army Reserve culinary specialist, who spends her drill weekends planning and preparing meals for the 1-158th Aviation Regiment, 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, Army Reserve Aviation Command, in Conroe, Texas.
Last month, however, instead of digging through the earth’s history, Holfeltz found herself rummaging through boxes of ingredients to create a meal plan. A meal plan designed to bring home the gold during the 45th Joint Culinary Training Exercise, March 4-13, 2020, at Fort Lee, Virginia.
“At the JCTE, I’ve met different culinary specialists. I’ve been learning so much, and I’m happy that I have this opportunity,” Holfeltz said.
The JCTE aims to enhance the Department of Defense Food Service program by sharing and learning techniques throughout the military career field.
JCTE culinary competitors like Holfeltz travel from across the nation, including allied international partners, not to compete against one another, but against the industry standard.
The competitors have access to a Mobile Kitchen Trailer parked outside the Fort Lee MacLaughlin Fitness Center. Jagged wooden pallets line the MKT's bed walls, which hold a variety of wholesome fruit and vegetables. The ingredients create a sweet and earthy aroma.
Wearing her white chef hat and determined to find the perfect elements to create a winning submission for the JCTE, Holfeltz used an array of fruits she hand-selected from the MKT to create green desserts. These delicious desserts included pineapples, coconuts, grapefruits, mangoes, and limes.
Holfeltz keeps her dark hair tied back in a low bun as she prepares food in a military kitchen during the JCTE. She hopes to enhance the DOD Food Service Program by learning more cooking techniques and nutrition from her competitors. Her goal is to bring more quality and holistic meals to the Soldiers back at her installation.
Back at her home unit, Holfeltz uses her cooking skills to support Soldiers who have religious dietary restrictions. As a follower of the Jewish faith, Holfeltz follows a kosher diet, so she understands the guidelines of other religions, including the Hindu and Muslim Soldiers in her unit. Holfeltz explains a kosher diet cannot mix meat and dairy, and Hindu observers must keep to a diet void of beef and eggs, while the Muslim diet restricts the consumption of pork.
“Until I started drilling with them, nobody had really taken those dietary restrictions into consideration, or cooks found it hard to make a tasty meal to fit around their religious diets,” she said. The lack of dietary consideration made it difficult for the Soldiers to feel fulfilled during the duty day, hindering their military readiness.
“One purpose of the JCTE is for culinary specialists to bring back what they learned from the exercise and improve their footprint back at their installation,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Major Ken Fauska, the Army food service sergeant major from Fort Lee, Virginia.
“Food is a huge part of your overall fitness,” said Holfeltz. When the Soldiers' dietary restrictions are taken care of, they can more easily focus on their warrior tasks.
With years of culinary experience behind Holfeltz, the skills gained at the JCTE will help her support the Army Holistic Health and Fitness goals and assist her Soldiers within the scope of the Army performance triad.
Holfeltz says she feels successful and gratified, knowing that her cooking gives her Soldiers one less thing to think about during the duty day, which contributes to the readiness of the U.S. Army Reserve.
“Those little things really go a long way in keeping the soldiers happy for the day. It’s really important for their mission as well,” Holfeltz said.
“In support of the overall Army mission, another purpose of the JCTE is to help showcase a new Army initiative, the Army commitment to improving overall nutrition across all components,” said Fauska.
Holfeltz explains her support of ACTION, that food isn’t just about combining ingredients to make a satisfying dish. It’s about taking a holistic and green approach to food and nutrition while preparing the meal tasty, wholesome, and sticking to religious dietary guidelines.
The task of changing up the food schedules at her unit challenges Holfeltz to dig deep, and she is eager to demonstrate her talent at the JCTE.
“When the military talks about readiness, both food and physical training come to mind, but it’s important to know that spiritual readiness fits into that, too,” she said.