FORT KNOX, Ky.- Soldiers from all different parts of the Army come to Fort Knox, Ky., to support Cadet Summer Training.

Staff Sgt. Lidia Zavalza came to Fort Knox from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington to cook in one of the mobile kitchen trailers, making food for Cadre while they are on the job. 

Zavalza joined the Army 10 years ago as a 92G, also known as a Culinary Specialist. 

“I joined the Army because I grew up with my dad’s side of the family all being in the military, and I wanted to try it too,” Zavalza said.

“My grandmother, she was like, ‘Oh, that’s a boy job, don’t do that…’ I was like, ‘ Why not? Why not?’”

Zavalza said when she joined she was told her only job option was to be a cook. Though she later learned she could have picked a different specialty, Zavalza is content with her line of work.

“I wouldn’t change it,” Zavalza said. “I like my job. It’s not hard per se, and you know what to expect every day for the most part, but you do need to have a lot of resiliency.”

Staff Sgt. Lidia Zavalza from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, prepares food for Cadets and Cadre at Warrior Restaurant 6012  for Cadet Summer Training, Fort Knox, Ky., June 5, 2023. Zavalza and other Culinary Specialists worked together to reopen this Warrior Restaurant in less than 24 hours after it closed due to a temporary gap in contracted coverage. | Photo by Savannah Baird, Ball State University, CST Public Affairs Office. 

Zavalza has worked in various roles in her field, but for approximately seven years, she has worked as a cook.

“[We have] to be very resilient because you deal with a lot of different people, a lot of higher ups, a lot of lower enlisted people, and your numbers fluctuate a lot,” Zavalza said. “You work with a lot of different personalities, and some of those people don’t like the job…so, you have to work around that and work with them, and you just have to stay in good spirits as much as you can.”

This resilience was tested when multiple Soldiers, including Zavalza, from around Fort Knox had less than 24 hours to switch jobs and get three dining facilities up and running. 

Sgt. 1st Class Lennox Duggan oversees the 92 Golf Soldiers who traveled in for CST. 

He was informed on Saturday, July 1st around 2 p.m. that they might have to take over some of the dining facilities. In a quick turn of events, it was officially decided later that evening they would be the ones taking over the dining facilities (DFAC). 

“Sunday morning, we came in at 0730 [a.m.] and we had the DFAC operational by [3 p.m.] for dinner,” Duggan said. “So roughly, we had a 12 to 14 hour turnaround that we had to get three dining facilities up and running to support the CST.”

Thankfully, Duggan’s team had enough people to get the dining facilities open again. 

“We had to just place people real quick, where they can go and each team just took over their prospective DFACs and actually went in and cleaned up a little bit,” Duggan said. 

Zavalza and other Soldiers suspected issues when they noticed the dining facilities no longer had the personnel needed to run them properly.

“Then that morning – Sunday morning – which was literally a couple days ago, we came in here, started cleaning up, trying to do an inventory of what we do have here to make for that same day dinner,” Zavalza said.

 “It was hectic. It was crazy, but we made it happen.”

In just a few hours, meals were ready and the Cadets were fed.

Sgt. 1st Class Lennox Duggan, 1st Infantry Division, Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Fort Riley, Kansas helps prepare dinner for Cadre and Cadets during Cadet Summer Training, Fort Knox, Ky., July 5, 2023. Duggan oversees 92G (Culinary Specialists) Soldiers from various installations, who have come to Fort Knox to cook for CST. | Photo by Savannah Baird, Ball State University, CST Public Affairs Office.

“We all are very happy that it is back up and running,” said Cadet Conner Reed, Ohio University. “It’s a great changeup from having MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat) constantly and finally having some hot meals, and everyone’s always really excited when we get to come here.

“It’s really nice that we can kind of look forward to this during our hard training days or whatever’s going on during our events.”

During the job change, it was essential to keep everyone motivated.

“One of the big challenges was to ensure that our Soldiers still had the spirits to come in here and cook and serve, because we were all in the mind set that we’re just out there in the field and we’re cooking and pushing it out,” Zavalza said. “We weren’t interacting with [people], so to come back in here, and do regular dining facility activities, it was making sure that they were within good spirits still, and actually motivated.” 

Zavalza emphasized how important motivation among the members is, because without them, she cannot do the job. 

“Without them, there’s really not enough of me to make it happen,” she said. “So I need to make sure that they’re good, and they are adjusting and they’re still being resilient with whatever it is that we’ve got going on.”

Adjusting to rapidly changing situations is a key part of their job.

“We move on the fly,” Duggan said. “We can adapt to any situation. That’s what 92 Golfers do. We just get in, make the mission happen.” 

“[Then] get out, go somewhere else, make the mission happen, that’s pretty much our workflow. We just set up anywhere.” 

Despite their ability to set up anywhere, Duggan expressed his relief they were moving to an actual building for such a quick set up.

“I’m glad it was a hard-standing building,” he said. “If it would have been the other way around, we would have had to go to the field, and we would have set up the equipment and set up a lot of more intricate pieces to get that field site running. But since this was a hard-standing building, it was too easy just to come in and just walk right into dinner.” 

Although Zavalza has worked CST once before, Duggan did not have the same experience. 

“This is my first CST, so I didn’t even know what it was, but I enjoyed it,” Duggan said. 

“It wasn’t too stressful. The only piece was getting in here with less than 14 hours. A lot of these Soldiers [have] never experienced that, so this is something they can put in a toolbox. It’s something that we all experienced together, which I think made the team stronger. Hopefully we don’t have to do it again, but if we do, we know we can do it.”

A 92G Soldier, also known as a culinary specialist, slices tomatoes for Warrior Restaurant 6012’s salad bar during Cadet Summer Training, Fort Knox, Ky., July 5, 2023. Soldiers from various assignments around CST formed a team to get three Warrior Restaurants running during a temporary gap in contracted coverage. | Photo by Erinn Finley, Murray State University, CST Public Affairs Office.

Zavalza’s biggest takeaway from this challenging experience was a renewed confidence in her ability to handle unexpected circumstances.

“I have learned that we can make anything possible, especially in a short amount of time,” Zavalza said. “I feel like people take our job for granted. They don’t realize a lot of the stuff that we can actually make happen and actually do.”

Zavalza plans to take skills she has learned from situations such as these ones and apply them to future endeavors. 

“Something that I would take with me from my job from the Army is the leadership abilities that I’ve learned myself and how to manage situations unexpectedly like this,” Zavalza said. “If it were to happen again, I know what comes with it, or how to work around it because I’ve done it before.”