butcher marinating a steak

Field to Table

One Colorado butcher is training Army Special Forces to expand their menu options.

In February 2014, Jason Nauert, director of the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat, a Colorado Springs butchery school, received an odd email from the U.S. Army.

Sgt. 1st Class Myron Billingsley was in a bind; his Special Forces soldiers were getting sick off sub-par foreign meat while stationed in remote parts of the world. Did Nauert—a butcher with zero military experience—have any ideas on how to help these soldiers?

He did.

Institute director Jason Nauert

A couple weeks later, the pair met for beers at a Colorado Springs brewpub. Nauert told Billingsley he could take the American Culinary Federation’s professional butchery course and adapt it to the needs of soldiers out in the elements—no walk-in coolers, no butcher knives, no luxuries. “I had to get creative about my approach and development of the course,” Nauert says. “Chefs are in a controlled environment, or as controlled as a kitchen can be. The soldiers are left to the elements of the outdoors.”

That fall, Nauert started training Special Forces with a six-day, hands-on course. Soldiers learned to identify healthy animals, butcher them, store the meat, and cook as much of the animal as possible to maximize nutrition. Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Mayo took Nauert’s course in 2015. Mayo was attached to a Special Forces unit sent to remote locations in Africa. They didn’t have a base with food supplies, and in order to feed themselves, they’d have to find a local market, buy whatever animal was available, and butcher it. “None of us had any real training in how to do that, and how to do it in a sanitary way so the guys don’t get sick,” Mayo says.

Besides learning how to butcher cleanly and quickly to avoid spoilage, Mayo says one of the best things Nauert taught him was how to cook everything on the animal, using scraps for sausage or head cheese, a cold cut. “It’s better-tasting field food,” Mayo says. “I’m still not eating head cheese, though.”

Allyson Reedy is a food writer for The Denver Post and the author of Breaking the Chain: How I Banned Chain Restaurants From My Diet And Went From Full To Fulfilled.

Photography by Rebecca Stumpf

Originally Published July 2017