Military News

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Guatemalan-born NCO relishes life as airborne cook

by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson
JBER Public Affairs


10/15/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Army Staff Sgt. Jose Acevedo stepped up to the door, looked at the 34 feet of nothing between himself and Georgia; he froze for the second time.

The black hat airborne instructor sent him back down again with a little added motivation: if he did that one more time, he would be recycled and repeat the last grueling week of his life.

Acevedo went back down the five-story tower, past all the other Soldiers waiting to test their mettle, his dreams of wearing a maroon beret suddenly not so tangible.

"I love jumping and I'll jump every day," Acevedo said, senior food operations sergeant for A Company, 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion. "I don't know what it is; that 34-foot tower is the scariest thing - even to this day. I hate that tower, I'd rather jump any day than go out that tower."

"The zipline - that's fun," Acevedo said. "Leaping out into nothing - that's rough."

And yet, perhaps, that is exactly what got him to the top of the tower.

Out of the pan and into the melting pot
Born in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Acevedo's family moved to the United States when he was 7 years old.

"My mom had three degrees. Even with all her education and my father working at a battery factory, they were barely making ends meet," Acevedo said. "So they decided to move to the states and provide a better life for their three kids."

Even though he was the oldest of three siblings, Acevedo said he does not remember much about Guatemala or the civil war that was sweeping the country at the time.

As a 7-year-old, he wasn't concerned with national politics. He had much more important matters on his mind; like his school schedule.

"In Guatemala, the school year runs from January until October, with November and December off," Acevedo said. "We moved to the states in January, I had just finished the third grade in Guatemala."

Because he didn't speak English yet, Acevedo attended English-as-a-second-language classes with other kids while the American school system finished out its cycle.

"There were a lot of kids there," Acevedo said. "We were all in the same boat, we didn't speak english and were from a bunch of different countries. Stamford [Connecticut] is like a melting pot of nationalities and cultures."

When it was all said and done, Acevedo had spent so much time in third grade, he could have completed it three times - though he still graduated high school at 18.

Even though Acevedo was young when his family moved to the U.S., the opportunities his family enjoyed because of it impacted his life forever.
"We started off in a small apartment in 1987 and they kept working hard; both of them always had at least one or two jobs," Acevedo said. "My mother was working at a deli, and my dad was working in construction. Almost nine years later, they purchased their first home in 1996, and that's where they still live today."

Acevedo's Guatemalan parents speak Spanish, his generation of cousins speak English, and his Puerto Rican in-laws melt the two together to create their own particular flavor.

"We try to show them what our different cultures have, both of us are kind of Americanized, so our parents show more of the culture when they visit," Acevedo said. "My mother is coming over for my son's birthday, and the only thing my son asked for was a traditional Guatemalan dish. That's pretty much all he asked his grandma for - to come down and cook for him, because he loves her cooking."

"It's the same thing with her side of the family, my father in-law is the one who does all the cooking on her side and it's all good food, but it's totally different," Acevedo said. "How they use all the spices - It's a completely opposite palate."

"I feel like it was my duty to serve," Acevedo said. "And if I needed to, fight for this country that has provided me with everything I have now."

A palate for diversity
As a junior in high school, Acevedo walked into the local Army recruiter's office with one goal in mind: "I want to be an airborne cook," Acevedo said.

After all, there's not very many cooks who can say part of their job description is jumping out of an airplane into the jaws of a battlefield; Army airborne food service personnel can.

The surprised recruiter looked at the young man in front of him.

"No problem!"

The paperwork commenced, and Acevedo joined via the delayed entry program. Nov. 12, 1997, Acevedo raised his right hand and leaped into the Army.

"I remember the day, because it was my girlfriend's birthday," Acevedo said. "She's my wife now."

"I wanted to look different than everybody else," said the Guatemalan native.

Now, with his white chef's coat, unique heritage and maroon beret, he doesn't look like most Soldiers, and he certainly doesn't look like the average chef.

A taste for adventure
The threat of being recycled was enough motivation to get Acevedo out of that 34-foot tower and into his first jump.

"During the first jump, I think everybody was scared. Everyone is excited to go up in the air, but you look around; everybody's all white-faced," Acevedo said with a small chuckle. "At that point, everyone who made it to that final week graduated."

After graduating from Airborne School, Acevedo and his family arrived at their new home, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and he began his military career at the 3rd Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.

"After that, I did one year in Korea and came right back to the same [dining facility] I was in before, but in a different unit," Acevedo said. "I was there from 2004 until March 2014 when I reported here."

"As much as I love the 82nd, I'd been trying to leave there since I got there," Acevedo said. "I wanted to go to Italy, anywhere. I came back to Bragg right after being at Korea. I just wanted to see - to experience something different."

However, because of the timing of his deployments and the limited number of Airborne food service locations, the opportunity never came; until, after 10 years, his first sergeant told him to pack his bags - he's going to Alaska.

"I didn't believe him, I thought he was pulling my leg," Acevedo said. "He had to pull out his roster and show me there were eight noncommissioned officers from 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division coming up here to [Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson]. Then I believed him."

Acevedo wanted to see exotic places where he could get a taste of different drop zones. After 10 years of Fort Bragg, he was finally going to jump somewhere else.

"The view up here is beautiful. I have 62 jumps at Bragg, so I've seen the same drop zones over and over again," Acevedo said. "Up here, every time you go in the air and get a chance to look out the window, it's beautiful. I hear it's really awesome to jump into fresh powder."

As the administration sergeant for the Wilderness Inn, Acevedo is responsible for documenting personnel, supply and inventory.

"We are kind of split up into three main areas," Acevedo said.  "There's the guys on shift who produce the whole meal, the guys in the ration room which control all the food supplies - they order it, put it away, maintain it, and we've got the guys in the administration office, that's all the paperwork.

"Our most important troops are the guys on shift; they're the ones that make it happen, they're the ones that make us shine in here," Acevedo said. "Nobody comes in here and looks at my paperwork and says 'Hey good job.' They look at the food."
With the recent closure of the Gold Rush Inn, the Wilderness Inn is now the only dining facility on the Richardson side of JBER, so their workload - and hours - have increased.

"If our [troops] are on morning shift, they'll be here by 4:45 a.m. in formation, getting an inspection, and making sure uniforms are squared away, clean and presentable," Acevedo said. "They start working by 5, if there are no other field requirements. If there are field requirements, they are here earlier than that. We've been here as early as 1 a.m. to accomplish the mission."

The Soldiers at the Wilderness Inn have to have breakfast up and ready to be served by 7 a.m, and it goes until 9:30 a.m.
"We have an hour and a half break from 0930 to 1100," Acevedo said.

By break, he means a break from the flood of hungry Soldiers, not from work. They have 90 minutes to break down breakfast and have lunch ready to serve.

"We serve lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The first shift goes til about 2 p.m., they clean up lunch and around 1400, they start [physical training]. Around 1500, they are done for the day," Acevedo said. "If there's nothing else that needs to get done at the company, weapons, motorpool, anything that has to happen that day - that's the time when they have to go do
it."

The hours for the second shift are just as harrowing.

"The second shift does PT in the morning at 6:30 a.m. and reports to work at 10:30 a.m.; between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. is their time to take care of anything the company needs to take care of or any personal stuff," Acevedo said. "Those guys work til about 1900, 1930 depending on what's going on with the field chow."

Because of the inordinately long hours, the two shifts alternate between the late and morning
shift.

"The first shift comes in, and on the following day they work late, the shift that comes in late comes in the next day early," Acevedo said. "They leave here around 7 or 8 p.m. and are right back here the next day at 4:45 a.m. to do it all over again."
"Regardless of what is going on, we've got a mission three times a day we've got to meet," Acevedo said. "Breakfast, lunch and dinner."

Keeping Soldiers fueled up for the fight is not an easy assignment, but it's an important one.

"You're only as good as your last meal," Acevedo said. "It wasn't my intention to stay in this long. I was only going to do three years, but I've enjoyed it. I've enjoyed the crazy and I've had good times."

Eight years into his service, Acevedo officially became a U.S. citizen.

"It was part of a ceremony in Charleston, South Carolina," Acevedo said. "The secretary of defense or somebody pretty big came down - I have a letter, certificate and pictures signed."

His cultural differences were accepted as a part of what makes him American in a city so recently the center of a racial controversy that rocked the nation.

"I didn't personally see it as a huge obstacle to overcome because the opportunity was always there," Acevedo said. "It wasn't until after I did it that I wish I would have done it a lot earlier."

Now, with 20 years in service looming up on him, Acevedo doesn't speak of retirement, only the next jump.

Maybe this time there will be fresh powder.

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