USS IWO JIMA, At Sea (NNS) -- Sailors and Marines from the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) enjoyed steaks donated by "Cooks from the Valley" while deployed, July 4.
More than 2,500 steaks were donated and prepared by the all-volunteer California based group "Cooks from the Valley," for the crew and embarked 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) aboard the USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), USS New York (LPD 21) and USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44).
"We just want to give something back to our service members," said Geoff King, a Cooks from the Valley volunteer aboard Gunston Hall. "We enjoy meeting the military members who serve our country. Bringing these steaks and being able to cook for them is our way of showing appreciation for all that they do."
The coordinating process with the U.S. Navy and the logistics of flying personnel and several thousand pounds of steak to the ships was a challenge. Volunteers flew with the steaks from California to Bahrain. Once they reached Bahrain, the steaks were divided and flown to the respective ships.
Tom Anton, founder of "Cooks from the Valley," has coordinated with overseas military members since 2006 and provided barbecues and cookouts for military members for more than 20 years.
"Tom Anton was asked to cook for a small military gathering in Northern California more than 25 years ago," said Russell Bigler. "Tom's steaks were such a hit that he was asked to return with his steaks for a group of more than 200 military personnel."
Anton and his team of chefs pay all the out-of-pocket expenses related to providing military members around with classic 'American' style cookouts and timed this visit around the Fourth of July holiday.
To compliment the specialty cuts of beef, culinary specialists aboard the ships served shrimp scampi, BBQ ribs, garlic cheese mashed potatoes, wild rice, grilled onions and mushrooms, sesame glazed green beans, cooked vegetables, pasta salad, french onion soup, and a decorative assortment of desserts.
"The supply officer and his team prepare plenty of outstanding food every day that keeps us ready to go," said Capt. Grady Banister, Iwo Jima's commanding officer. "However, it's nice to give morale a boost on special days with a special meal."
Iwo Jima ARG with the embarked 24th MEU are currently deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
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