Feature Stories

NEWS | Dec. 2, 2021

‘You never know who’s looking at you, when’

By Sgt. 1st Class Mary S. Katzenberger 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command

If you’ve eaten at the Zone 2 dining facility here, chances are you’ve received a fist bump from Sgt. 1st Class Patrick W. Gowan.

The culinary specialist, a Reserve Soldier attached to the 3rd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, deployed here in March with the Los Angeles, California, based 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command.

Early in the deployment, Gowan served as the contracting officer representative for two of the dining facilities here, but was able to transition to managing just the Zone 2 location. Like clockwork, the sergeant first class posted himself in the same spot every day during the breakfast and lunch meals and greeted every single service member eating in or taking to-go boxes out.

“Working in the chow hall is really nice,” the Coronado, California, native said. “It’s very hard work, long, long hours, not a lot of people appreciate it—a lot of people complain about your food but that’s OK—I’m here to provide morale in the form of chow to people, and I try to do that.”

Gowan said serving in the military is something he always wanted to do, but he did not end up enlisting until 2006 when he was 37 years old. He has spent much of his career as a motor transport operator, or 88M, and has deployed to Afghanistan.

He was supporting Exercise Maple Resolve, Canada’s annual training exercise, when he ran into one of his former commanders who was preparing for the Kuwait deployment.

“He said, ‘hey I need an E-7 cook, so if you reclass I’ll take you Gowan,’” the sergeant first class said. “So I reclassed as a 92G and found out I really kind of like it.”

Gowan said the most enjoyable aspect of his deployment has been interacting with the U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, and the international soldiers serving with the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve deployed here.

His interactions with one Soldier during the tour, in particular, stand out.

“There was a guy that came in every day and he was sort of sad every day, and I would just smile and fist bump him,” Gowan said. “One day he looked at me and he said, ‘you saved my life right there.’

The sergeant first class said he immediately asked the Soldier to sit down so they could talk. He went into the kitchen and grabbed the Soldier some lumpia and dipping sauce—in their contract the cooks are authorized to cook food for themselves—and brought it out for the Soldier to eat while they visited.

“Apparently this individual had been going to stress management, and he was really going to do something—he had a firearm that was concealed and he was going to shoot himself,” Gowan said. “He said I was the only kind person on this base, or the only person that acted kindly towards him.

“So that just taught me that you never know who’s looking at you, when,” the sergeant first class continued. “I’m not saying that I’m perfect, but I try to be—I try to be kind, I try to be decent to people—and apparently that really helped that guy out.”

Gowan said the experience reinforced the value of looking his fellow service members in the eye and engaging with them.

“I don’t do it for, really anything, I just do it because basically that’s what I look on my job as doing,” the sergeant first class said.