Longtime Judge Recounts Time with Army Culinary Program
U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee Public Affairs - Fort Lee, VA
In 1944 Germany, a 6-year-old boy scrounging for food was sheltered from gunfire by American Soldiers as German forces fired at their positions. “They took me under a tank, and one put his arm over me and another did the same,” said Roland E. Schaeffer, a chef in the Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event. “They wanted to protect me.” Schaeffer, noting he did not think the Soldiers were authorized to do what they did, said the combatants furthered their act of kindness by giving him a treat. “They gave me a piece of chewing gum, which I never had in my life,” he recalled, “and I was so hungry I swallowed the whole thing.” The chewing gun is a sweet memory that generates a laugh today, but on a more serious note, Schaeffer never forgot the Americans’ generosity. His face expressed a measure of gratitude words could not. He later found his voice. “They took care of me so I want to take care of them,” he said. Schaeffer has been taking care of military culinarians as a coach, mentor and friend since 1984. The longest-tenured MCACTE judge, he has contributed greatly to shaping the Army’s food service program and the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team and its participation in culinary competitions all over the world. The 79-year-old Schaeffer, who has been an American Culinary Federation member since 1967, began his career in the culinary arts under the tutelage of his father, a chef who owned a restaurant. His father’s plan was to retire early and allow his son to manage the establishment. It did not go as planned. Schaeffer took a trip to the U.S. in 1959, initially with the intent to return in five years. “But I changed my mind because I liked it very much here in the United States,” he said. “That did not make him happy at all so he sold the restaurant after a while.” Schaeffer became involved with the Army Food Service Program after meeting (the late Lt. Gen.) John D. McLaughlin, known in most circles as the father of Army food service and an advocate for professional chefs all over the country. “What impressed me about him was that he was involved with elevating the chef’s profession,” he said. Schaeffer, who was honored with the ACF’s Lt. Gen. John D. McLaughlin Award in 2010, said the Army culinary arts program was in its infancy, but the fledgling operation was buoyed by participants’ desire and determination. “I could see the interest in the Soldiers,” he said. “They were very, very excited. They wanted to learn and they were eager to learn, and they didn’t have such big egos.” Over the past 30 years, Schaeffer said he has seen much improvement in the training of Soldiers and the food service program in general. Those developments have culminated in winning gold medals at the most prestigious culinary competitions in Europe. “That’s when I knew the Soldiers knew what they were doing,” said Schaeffer. “They really tried hard in being the best they can be. I was proud to be a part of the team.” The winnings and food service program improvements would make McLaughlin beam, said Schaeffer. “I think he would be proud,” he said, “not only of our Soldiers but of himself in being responsible for the success of the food service program.” Schaeffer said he has no plans of curbing his support of the military food service program here. “As long as I can breathe and as long as I’m able, I will come because I enjoy working with the Soldiers,” he said. “I get satisfaction every time I see them do well.” Schaeffer’s lifework could be considered a shining example of how acts of kindness can impact people, places and events far beyond its occurrence.