Its 5 p.m. on a Friday night. Four U.S. Army cadets carrying assault rifles and machine guns trudge over ground the humidity has turned to ankle-deep mud. Their boots, pasted with mud, fall heavier with each step. Their tattered and worn-out uniforms match their beleaguered expressions.
Their weariness fades as they approach the dining facility. The tired look in their eyes is overtaken by enthusiasm and relief.
Hello gentlemen, beams a sergeant standing in front of the dining hall. Are you excited for dinner?
The cadets smile, white teeth standing out against faces browned with dirt and sweat. One breaks into a full grin and laughs.
Definitely, sergeant, he replies.
The cadets have spent the past four days training in dense forests and eating nothing but prepackaged field rations. They are happy to see the familiar face of Sgt. Trina M. Billett, knowing she has made sure that waiting for them in the dining hall is the first warm, cooked meal theyve had in a while.
Billett, with 657th Forward Support Company, 308th Brigade Support Battalion, 17th Fires Brigade, is the regimental host unit NCOIC for the 11th Regiment with Warrior Forge at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. That means she handles a lot of the logistics requirements of cadets in Leader Development and Assessment Course, also known as Operation Warrior Forge, for their U.S. Army Reserve Officers Training Corps training.
Throughout Warrior Forge, cadets live in barracks and tents while training under the supervision of active duty Soldiers. Its Billetts job to ensure they have necessities like food, bedding and a host of services.
What makes Billett stand out as more than just an overseer behind the scenes is her rapport with the cadets. Outside the dining facility she talks with cadets lining up for dinner. She asks them how their training is going and how theyre doing in general. Her voice is warm and enthusiastic.
Sergeant Billett is dedicated to the professional development of cadets core values, said Master Sgt. Randall Dawson, the 11th Regimental sergeant major with 3rd Brigade, hosted by ROTC Washington University.
Shes a believer in Warrior Forge and lends her knowledge to cadets who are curious about how the Army works. Its important for them to see and learn about this side of the Army and make sure this is what they want, she said. They ask me questions, they want to learn.
And shes got a lot of knowledge to share. Billetts been serving in the Army for more than 20 years.
When she was going to Carlisle High School in Carlisle, Pa., she already knew she wanted to be part of the military. I wanted to get my education, I wanted to serve my country, she said.
She joined the Army National Guard in 1984, two days after she turned 18. After earning an associates degree in allied health science from Harrisburg Area Community College, she started looking into serving as an active duty Soldier.
She started her active duty career as a combat medic. After serving two deployments as a medic she decided it was time to switch jobs.
I loved it but there was a lot of stress, Billett said. My family could see what it was doing to me... she trailed off, then smiled. So we changed (my job). Now I work supply.
By working in several job fields and through four deployments, shes built experience her cadets want to learn from.
(The military) is the only place where you can really teach and learn all in the same day, she said. Being on this assignment Ive learned so much and met so many new people.
Billett values education, so learning and teaching as much as she can is something she holds in high regard. While that is one of the perks to her position, it isnt all fun and games.
Her responsibilities keep her constantly busy from 7 a.m. to as late as 11 p.m.
Driving from her office to the training grounds to set up the dining facility, she went over numbers with a coworker of more than 1,000 pieces of linen for cadets barracks rooms, while she answered her Bluetooth to make last minute changes in her schedule.
Billett valued hard work since she was a child. She answered every phone call with a soft tone, never getting frustrated or overwhelmed.
Its my job, she said with a shrug. I deal with it.
She attributes her calm attitude to the Soldiers she works with.
I have an awesome team. Theyre always ready, Billett said. They give 110 percent every day.
Imparting her knowledge to cadets and her Soldiers is a big part of Billetts life. Its a way for her to keep serving even when she gets out of the military.
Id stay in, I love the military, but Im too old to go to the Officers Corps, she said.
At age 46, Billett is ineligible to become a commissioned officer in the military. Shes working on her nursing degree so she can get into the medical field and continue helping people when her service ends.
For now she intends to keep working hard at her job and encouraging cadets going through Warrior Forge.
Outside the dining facility rests a huge line of cadets eagerly waiting to go in. Billett steps in front of the crowd and grins.
Are you all ready to eat? she cheers.
The cadets shout Hooah!
Billett excites the crowd like an announcer at a rock concert. The cadets pour into the dining hall.
Inside, cadets are raving about the hot meal. Billett is behind a table, serving food, talking with the Soldiers and making sure they eat their vegetables. As she places bread on a cadets tray, he grins.
The only bread hes had in the past four days is the hard, vacuum-sealed bread that comes in prepackaged field rations. He looks at Billet.
Its good to see you, sergeant, he said.