CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq -- A small trail of smoke rose above Battle Position Vera Cruz, or BP Vera Cruz, here. The smell of barbequed meat filled the air while off-duty Marines milled around, avoiding the heat by finding shade wherever possible. A lone Marine stood over his grille, no matter how hot the temperature in the unforgiving desert heat, preparing the afternoon meal for his fellow Marines.
Cpl. Gorje Ruiz, a food service specialist with Charlie Company, Task Force 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, is that proud combat cook.
“I’m doing my little part of the mission,” Ruiz said. “Marines have to eat.”
Task Force 1/4’s mission as of late has found them conducting operation is support of Operation Harris Ba’sil.
The Passaic, N.J., native wakes up at sunrise daily, making sure his fellow Marines have a hot breakfast available before the first patrol starts.
"A hot meal keeps you motivated,” said Lance Cpl. John Reitzel, a machine gunner with Charlie Company.
The Marines of BP Vera Cruz live on a small hill overlooking a river near the Syrian Border patrolled daily by Charlie Company. A sewage system is nonexistent, so they dig holes and fit plastic piping into the ground for burying waste. Wooden support beams and large sand-filled bags, known as Hesco Barriers, become their walls and roofing. They walk on dirt and live in dirt, but they make the best of it.
“We have some weights for lifting, but I wouldn’t really call it a gym,” explained Pfc. Michael Yazzieking, a radio operator with Charlie Company. “I look forward to the meals here.”
Ruiz works with one tray-ration heater, or T-RAT, a grille, a sparse pantry and a freezer for meats. This combat cook has few tools to work with but is handy with every one of them.
“I can cook anything out here that doesn’t need frying,” Ruiz boasted.
He’s the only cook at Vera Cruz but when it comes to setting up his cooking area and cleaning up, the Charlie Marines help him get the job done.
“I’m glad I’m attached with these guys because they really give me a hand cleaning and setting up the chow line before and after the meals,” Ruiz said.
“Everyone helped me clean from the lowest rank to senior Marines here,” Ruiz explained. “A clean area means healthy cooking.”
Ruiz understands that everyday life is not as easy at the battle positions than at the forward operating bases, so he puts in the extra effort to bring morale up with cooking.
“I try to make sure that at least two out of the three meals that day are hot ones because it’s not easy here and I want to do my fair share,” Ruiz said.
The meals aren’t only hot, they’re pretty tasty.
“Every meal I’ve had has always been good so far,” Reitzel said.
Ruiz tries barbequing as much as possible because it’s always fresh and hot.
“I use a lot of different spices on my hamburgers and steaks and the Marines really enjoy the steaks especially,” Ruiz said.
The cook is proud of his creations and enjoys the fact his fellow Marines have a hot meal no matter what their living conditions may be.
“I’m nobody’s housewife here, but I cook a decent meal,” Ruiz said. “It’s always better than MREs.”