JOINT BORDER CONTROL CENTER, Iraq -- Keeping your belly full of warm, freshly-cooked chow isn’t the easiest thing to do when you’re a Marine pushed forward from one of the large bases in western Iraq. More often than not, outside of Christmas and Thanksgiving, meals consist of military rations that sit heavy on your stomach for hours, if not days.
Marines here at this desolate outpost scratched out of the desert and surrounded by barriers were subsisting on Meals, Ready-to-Eat and the occasional hot chow trucked in from Camp Korean Village until Company A, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, built a chow hall. Then, to prepare and serve the meals, they brought Sgt. Joselito Rubante, the chief cook for 1st LAR.
Rubante is a one-man chow hall staff for approximately 150 Marines who call the base their home.
“It’s my job to support my Marines by giving them as good a meal as I can,” said the 27-year-old Cranford, N.J., native. “I wake up at (2 a.m.) every day to have breakfast out by (6 a.m.).”
Rubante prepares two meals a day for those he calls “my Marines.”
“I do the best I can,” he said, “but everybody is helpful. The atmosphere here is good to go.”
Corporal Jason M. Madruga, 22, of Roseville, Calif., assists Rubante when the mission allows him the time, as do many Marines here.
“We have great chow here, way better than (Meals, Ready-to-Eat),” said the crewman with 1st LAR. “We’re all a team, part of the war machine to get things done. I help out Sgt. Rubante whenever things need getting done.”
The company first sergeant for Company A, 1st Sgt. James K. Porterfield, appreciates the steps Rubante takes in feeding the Marines.
“He’s awesome,” said Porterfield. “He really goes the extra step, making more portions or mixing up variety.”
Rubante is shipped a week’s worth of meals fresh, frozen or refrigerated from Camp Al Asad. This does not mean that his job consists of throwing blocks of food into a pot to boil, he said.
“You’ve got to always have pride in your job. People will notice, especially with chow,” said Rubante. “My staff sergeant told me once, ‘You’re only as good as your last meal.’ I always live by that. It hit something within me.”
That pride motivates Rubante to throw together dishes that don’t come pre-prepared, or from a can or jar.
“I made teriyaki steaks and got a lot of compliments. Made it all from scratch,” he said.
Preparing the meat takes a little effort, a little scrounging and a little squirreling away here and there.
“You’ve got to prep the steaks ahead of time. I use a marinade with orange juice, pineapple, soy sauce, and salt and pepper. I use non-alcoholic beer for extra tenderness, so when you bite into it it’s just falling off the bone,” he said.
Rubante said he doesn’t mind giving away his secrets.
“I tell people my recipes, but I don’t tell them the amount because I don’t know the amounts,” he said. “That’s how you can tell a good cook. It’s just how it feels, you know?”