An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

AETC aides bring joy through cooking

  • Published
  • By Beverly Simas
  • AETC Public Affairs
The apartment-style kitchen on the fourth floor of the Center for the Intrepid was bubbling with excitement Tuesday. The sound of conversation and the smell of delicious foods permeated the air. 

The Center, located near Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, provides traumatic amputee patients, severe burn patients and those requiring limb salvage efforts with techniques and training to help them regain their ability to live and work productively. In the apartment, traditionally used to acclimate wounded warriors back to traditional living accommodations, Tech. Sgt. Jason Simas and Staff Sgt. Michael Leo prepared a lavish feast to brighten the spirits of all around. The sergeants, who are enlisted aides to the Air Education and Training Command commander and vice commander, volunteered their culinary talents to support the Airmen and others in treatment and working at the center. 

"It is just about them (the Airmen) getting to eat and getting to relax," Sergeant Leo said. 

The idea for the event began in March as one Airman visiting another. "I was going down (to CFI) to meet with Staff Sgt. Matt Slaydon," Sergeant Leo said. Sergeant Slaydon was critically injured in October, when an improvised explosive device detonated near him while he was clearing convoy routes, leaving him completely blind and causing him to lose his left arm.

At that meeting Sergeant Leo cooked an entire lunch--including Caribbean "jerk" chicken. "People kept stopping in the kitchen to see what was going on. I ended up feeding about 18 to 20 people," Sergeant Leo said. 

The learning and sharing from that experience made Sergeant Leo realize he needed to make this a regular event. He requested the help of a fellow aide, Sergeant Simas. "I really like the idea and jumped at the opportunity to help," Sergeant Simas said. 

With a menu of beef tenderloin covered in a balsamic red wine sauce, French cut green beans, garlic mashed potatoes and a carrot cake, the price of the groceries needed for the elaborate banquet began to escalate. 

However, the Randolph Middle Tier Association quickly voted and approved a donation of $100 to help supply the effort. 

In addition, Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Page,12th Flying Training Wing command chief, reached into his own pocket to donate to the cause. 

The aides also receive full support from the commanders they serve. "What is cool about this is that everyone does what they can do to help. People like Mike and Jason are the reason I stayed in the Air Force," Maj. Gen. Mark Welsh, AETC vice commander said. 

Sergeants Simas and Leo planned the event to serve any Airmen in treatment at the CFI but were cooking specifically for Sergeant Slaydon and his wife, Annette, and Airman 1st Class Kevin Krogh. Airman Krogh lost his legs in an automobile accident. "We come down here to feed the Air Force Airmen, but as long as there is food we don't turn anyone away," Sergeant Leo said. 

The smell of good food brought many new faces to the doorway-- some staff and some wounded warriors. 

Wounded Marine Cpl. Travis Dodson came in search of "the best steak in San Antonio." He wasn't disappointed, he said.
After the meal, members of the well-fed crowd shared some insight on the event. 

"It is nice to know that other people care and want to help," Sergeant Slaydon said. "The brotherhood crosses the different duties. The general's aides cook us a meal that only someone with a star on their shoulder would normally get." 

Airman Krogh added that he just appreciates something different from the food at the dining facility. 

"It brightens the mood and morale of the service members and the staff," Chris Ebner, occupational therapist at the center, said. 

When the last tenderloin was handed out and the carrot cake was just a sweet memory it wasn't hard, for those involved in the event, to see the participants in the day's activities were changed. General Welsh was quick to point out that the two aides serving may really be the ones served by their own project. "I really think it is Jason and Mike who are truly benefiting from this experience."