FRANKFORT, Ky. –
In the Army, a culinary specialist is primarily responsible for preparing food in field or garrison operations. For Spc. Jayendra Patel, learning this military occupational specialty became an opportunity to do more than feed his fellow Guardsmen.
"Making sure my brothers and sisters have the proper nourishment their bodies and minds need is a way for me to serve others so we can all serve our country," said Patel.
Ultimately, service to others led him to join the Kentucky Army National Guard, and it inspired his recent trip to India.
In March, Patel received word that his father had fallen ill. If he wanted to see him, he would need to take an emergency trip home to Gandhinagar, the town where he was born. By then, the COVID-19 pandemic already spanned the globe, but the American borders were yet to be closed. He booked a flight and headed to his father's bedside.
Over the next few weeks, his father's health improved, and the pandemic raged on. Nations shut their borders, and businesses closed to slow the spread of the virus. India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, performed the world's most extensive shutdown. He ordered 1.3 billion Indians to stay home for 21 days.
While stuck in India for the shutdown, Patel found himself unfamiliarily idle and yearning to help others.
"For the first time, maybe ever, I found myself with nothing to do but watch the news. I couldn't escape the images of the millions of people all across India who were without work, food, and clean water because of the shutdown."
The restrictions in India limited where and when residents could venture outside the home. Limitations included trips to retrieve essential supplies and left many without the resources they needed to survive the pandemic.
"I spoke with my father, and I asked, what would happen if I fed these people?" he recalled.
At first, his father was concerned with his son bringing food to those less fortunate; the logistics of the effort would violate several lockdown regulations.
Despite concerns, Patel accepted the risk of potentially starting trouble with law enforcement.
"I knew I was risking our own safety, but I couldn't sit by and watch people starve in the streets."
Patel served others precisely as trained. He requested special permission to coordinate food, water, and utensils.
Reaching for their first goal to feed 60 people, the group ended up feeding more than 100.
When others asked for food assistance, he again answered the call, growing the operation to serve more than 300 families. With just a little extra space on the terrace at his family's home, he created a makeshift kitchen and then coordinated with others to deliver hot meals to those needing it most.
"I was feeling down about being stuck in India," said Patel. "My brothers and sisters in the Guard were helping with COVID-19 efforts all across the country. When I talked with my NCO about these feelings, he reminded me that living by the core Army Values makes us the Soldiers we are, not our uniforms."
Out of uniform and away from his teammates, Patel embodied the Army Values. Even while stuck halfway around the world, he combined those values with a caring heart and a hot stove. He served his neighbors as only he could during an ongoing worldwide crisis.
"If you don't do what you can't do, that's no problem. But if you don't do what you can do, that is tragic," added Patel.