The United States Army Reserve is establishing a new unit outside of Chicago, but these soldiers won’t be carrying out battle plans, they’ll be following recipes. 

During a ceremony at the Army’s Fort Sheridan complex this week, officials established an entirely new unit: The 238th field feeding company — the first-ever feeding company based in the Midwest.

“Fielding a new unit is very rare — even in the active army — so to be able to do it here at Ft. Sheridan in the reserves, is even more special,” said Jim Bland, the civilian aide to Secretary of the United States Army.

Sergeant Crystal Melendez, 29, from Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood is one of 150 reservists selected to serve in the unit. “I like being around all the cooks,” Melendez said. “I like being around so many people, I’ve never been at an at where there are so many cooks – and everybody brings something different.”

Bland said that that food is the backbone of any fighting force, and cited the example of the starving Russian Army, which ran out of food during its attack on Ukraine in March of 2022. “What we saw with Russia is that they actually kind of flamed out in the middle of their advance into Ukraine, because it’s not a superior logistics force, so that actually weakened or compromised their forces – and actually they ended up violating some laws of war, going into people’s homes and having to secure food that way,” Bland.

Unit commander Nicholas Rice said these cooks will be sent out of the kitchen to army training exercises, disaster zones, and battlefields. “Units are going overseas, we could be attached to them, either one or two teams depending on the size of the unit, and they would be cooking for them for the duration of that deployment,” Rice said.

The company will cook out of a trailer known as a ‘battlefield kitchen’ – complete with heating and refrigeration plus preparation and storage space. It’s a full-service mobile unit where the soldier-chefs prepare three meals per day for up to 300 soldiers. 

“They wake up early in the morning to ensure that we have a cooked meal – they feed our bellies,” said Capt. Yesenia Pena, of Waukegan. “They fill our hearts, and we’re so grateful to all those soldiers and they love to do it.”

Army officials say, in war zones, finding local food can be difficult and sometimes dangerous … They say pre-packaged “meals ready to eat” don’t provide the same comfort as meals that have been cooked. “What we like to do is provide a hot meat to soldiers because that really does boost morale,” Rice said.

It’s been said that an army marches on its stomach, not its feet, meaning a well-fed army is an effective one. “You need to be fed, but it’s also a morale thing,” Bland said.