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Lance Cpl. Garrett Camacho cooks steaks on a makeshift grill. He was inspired by family members in the military and a passion for cooking.
Lance Cpl. Garrett Camacho serves meals for 150 every day.
Camacho, a 2010 graduate of Mountain View High, cooks some chicken
Lance Cpl. Garrett Camacho of Stafford gets creative cooking for 150 Marines in Afghanistan's Helmand province.
By CATHY DYSON
Garrett Camacho knew exactly what he wanted to do in the Marine Corps.
He told a recruiter he'd like to be a combat cook. The recruiter asked him to repeat that--to be sure he heard him right--then told Camacho to put it in writing because his gunnery sergeant would never believe it.
The Stafford County resident, who graduated from Mountain View High School in 2010, had his reasons for wanting to be a mess cook.
He grew up surrounded by the two things the specialty entailed: a love of culinary arts and military service.
He watched the men in his family grill and make special sauces. Every summer, when he visited his Grandma Camacho in Texas, he took in the smells that came from her kitchen and the taste of her signature tamales.
As a teenager, he watched his uncle, Jesse Camacho of Stafford, put together dinners for high-ranking Marines and politicians.
He wanted to do the same and to pay homage to those in his family who served as sailors or Marines.
The 19-year-old got his wish.
Camacho is a lance corporal, currently deployed to Afghanistan. He's in the Khan-Neshin district of the Helmand province, where he's a food service specialist.
He cooks two hot meals a day for Marines with the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
"I get to show everyone what cooks do," Camacho said recently in a story by the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System. "They get to see how much work goes into preparing the food."
Camacho said in an email that he'd love to try some family recipes, like his grandmother's tamales, but doesn't have the right ingredients on hand.
So, he makes do with what he has, even if it means serving "veal cheddar" because he ran out of parmesan cheese.
He said the 150 Marines he cooks for aren't so fond of his meat loaf, but they love his steak and jambalaya.
"I had some guys one time just look at me and straight up said, 'I love you, cookie,'" he wrote in an email.
His uncle says Camacho is making a difference in the lives of Marines, who are putting in long hours on dangerous duty.
"Whatever [the cooks] get, if they can be a little creative with it, it makes it more special for those Marines who are away from home," Jesse Camacho said. "Marines are really appreciative of any little touch that you might do."
During his 26 years in the Corps, Jesse Camacho served as a combat cook in Kuwait and the Philippines. He currently manages the aide program, which oversees households and social functions of senior officers for the entire Marine Corps.
Garrett Camacho would like to do the same and hopes to spend at least 20 years in the Corps. His goal is to become a warrant officer.
He has a lot of military experience in his family to draw from.
His father, Jose, was a Marine sergeant, and he lives in Texas.
His sister, Emily, is 24 and married to a Marine captain at Quantico.
His brother, Dean, is 21 and a sonar technician on a fast-attack submarine. He's currently on deployment for six months.
His younger brother, Dayton, is 17 and will graduate from high school next year. He's considering attending Virginia Military Institute. If he becomes a Navy officer, Dean vows that he won't salute him.
Camacho's stepfather, Richard Allen, was a lieutenant commander who spent 21 years in the Navy. Allen swore Camacho into the Corps and watched the young man get shipped off to boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.
The same day, Allen returned to Stafford and went for a jog.
"He never came home," said Shannon Allen, his widow and Camacho's mother. Allen died of sudden cardiac death at age 39. He hadn't had any health problems to that point, she said.
Shannon Allen knows the military service kept the family grounded through the ordeal.
So did their family ties. She stayed closed to Jesse Camacho and his wife, Jennifer, even after she divorced Jesse's brother.
When she and Allen married, each brought two children to the union. She adopted his, and he considered himself a father to hers. In the beginning, the couple had three boys and one girl--ages 6, 8, 9 and 13--under one roof.
Things have gotten quieter as each has assumed a military assignment. Allen has a flag with three blue stars hanging from her front window.
When a combat reporter did the story on Garrett's speciality in March, Allen said she's certain it made her late husband as proud as it did the rest of the family.
"That was one for the cooks," she said.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425