CAMP MUJUK, KOREA – Some Marines get awarded medals for distinguished service on the battlefield, but one young PFC has been given a Navy Cross for an achievement closer to home. PFC Esteban Rodriguez, a Food Service Specialist with 3rd Combat Logistics Battalion, received the award at the close of Operation Freedom Banner in Korea for improvements made to the archaic cooking service.
Life can be tough in the frozen wasteland of Mujuk. The Korean winters are especially harsh and the camp is isolated, with conditions rendered somewhat spartan. Despite the challenges, this motivated young Marine has, according to his award citation, “Made the best damned plate of instant eggs the Colonel has ever eaten.”
For years, Marines on deployments around the world have been forced to eat disgusting, slimy, unevenly stirred concoctions served on trays made of broken dreams, all provided in lieu of real rations. Some have said they even prefer MREs to the hot chow. The most infamous examples of these "food items" are the instant eggs served by the pan. While normally uneven and disgusting, PFC Rodriguez has turned stirring fecal matter into an art form.
“I ate the ‘eggs’ he made in the makeshift chow hall for the first time yesterday, and amazingly I didn’t shit my pants thirty seconds after I finished. So that was a first for me,” said Lance Corporal Ian Baker, a Motor Transport operator who worked nearby. “I asked him what his secret was the next time I went through the line but he just said ‘Aye aye, Lance Corporal.’ He’s going to go far in his career.”
Others expressed skepticism.
“Yeah, those were some pretty good eggs,” said GySgt Ronaldo Vasquez. “But I can make a real omelet back home that’s almost as good, with genuine eggs, so I don’t know what the fuss is about. But in the end it’s the Colonel’s decision who gets what awards.”
GySgt Vasquez denies his comments were because he did not receive any awards for his time in Korea.
But the eggs are only a small part of the miraculous work PFC Rodriguez did in the makeshift chow hall. He also claims to have made the sausages edible, the bacon crispy, removed every bit of E. coli from the vegetables, and swears on his good name the biscuits are nearly palatable. "I did some research on the Internet on how to cook," he admits. "All we learned in MOS school was how long to microwave pasta. I even took the initiative and started wrapping next week's food in plastic!"
The Navy Cross is normally presented with V to indicate valor in combat situations, but Jenkins’ medal carries a small attached A-for-effort. “I will carry this proudly on my chest,” says PFC Rodriguez. “I only have two ribbons after all. This one means officers have to salute me right?”
Beyond just the young cook's achievement, 384 of the 386 CLB-3 Marines on Operation Freedom Banner received Navy Achievement Medals, and the CO was written a lengthy commendation for introduction into the Legion of Merit. He also threw out some less-than-subtle suggestions concerning his own promotion to Brigadier General.
Commanding Officer Colonel Jim Hegrel, when asked about the high amount of awards given to his Marines, said, “It was a good effort out there. Everyone did really great. I was proud of 'em. I’m just so happy to be in command of such exceptional men and women, as long as I get the credit for it. Go Team on 3!”