By Army Spc. Angel Turner
U.S. Division North
CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE MAREZ, Iraq, July 12, 2011 – Before leaving China, Army Spc. Jun Zhao promised his mother he would go to America and make something of himself.
Zhao, serving in U.S. Division North with the 1st Cavalry Division’s Troop D, 1st Squadron, 9th Squadron, 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, enlisted in the military four years ago as a food service specialist.
“My job is to take care of soldiers by preparing their food,” said Zhao, a native of Xiang Hai, China. “I’m different from other cooks. I take whatever criticism I get and apply it to improve.”
Deployed for the second time, Zhao holds true to his promise by making the best meals possible, using skills from his previous job as an executive chef at a large restaurant.
Zhao attended culinary arts school following a three-year enlistment in the Chinese army, and he continued to work at various restaurants to perfect his cooking skills.
“His culinary skills are unmatched,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Bronson Jacoby, senior food management noncommissioned officer in charge. “[His cooking] improves soldiers’ morale greatly.”
When Zhao prepares a meal for his fellow soldiers, he uses his creativity and expertise to give them something to look forward to each day, Jacoby said.
“He is one of the best food specialists in the Army,” said Army Staff Sgt. Stephen Zaucha, a food operations specialist with Troop D. “He uses his knowledge to change an ordinary meal and make it better.”
When Zhao works out of a containerized kitchen -- a unit with lesser capabilities than a full kitchen -- he ensures soldiers receive full satisfaction from their meal.
“Whether in a [regular] kitchen or in a containerized kitchen, Zhao puts out the best he possibly can,” Zaucha said. “With him, it’s about personal pride [and] taking care of the soldiers.”
Zhao not only inspires the soldiers he works with by his cooking abilities, but also motivates his fellow service members in their basic soldiering skills.
“He maxes out his [physical training] test and always hits at least 35 targets at every range,” Jacoby said. “He helps soldiers who lag behind in PT. He operates as a noncommissioned officer.”
Zhao said he is working toward U.S. citizenship and has plans to bring his mother to the United States.