Veteran Spotlight: Navy Petty Officer Ron Reda
Growing up Chicago, he came from a large Italian family.
"We always had tons of food from my mom, my grandmother, my aunts ... we always respected food. Never thought I'd grow up to be a chef," he said with a laugh.
He was sent to basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes outside Chicago then to submarine school in Groton, Conn.
"My dad was a Navy man and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. We had a full load of classes ... they keep you moving constantly," he said. "They put you through the ringer constantly to see how you do mentally."
The toughest part of submarine school?
"It was my first time away from home and you keep wondering if you made the right decision ... is this the right decision? There's lots of training and a big learning curve, mental lockdowns and the stress of fires and floods," he remembered.
Petty Officer Reda recalled his first assignment on his submarine.
"I was a fire control technician. The food was horrible. I went to the kitchen and said, 'let me help you.' They said if I thought I could do it, then go ahead. I told the chief I wanted to cook ... cooked dinner for 175 guys — bread pasta, gravy (sauce) and desert. The captain came down, his name was Thorne, and said he wanted me to cook the meals from now on."
Reda said he started hanging out in the galley and learning by asking questions, reading books. "Initially, the guys were pissed, thought I was invading their territory. Then they saw the quality time I put in and I got their respect," he recalled.
When asked about being away for the holidays, Reda answered matter-of-factly: "you're underwater doing your job. Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, nothing changes. You eat, then go back to work. No communication with your family, you're invisible in the water. The wife and kids suffer the most and you kind of lose that holiday spirit."
"I got transferred to a ballistic missile sub — the USS Maine. It was a downgrade in rank but it worked out well, we got to cook for the admiral and his guests. The admiral began entertaining because of my food," Reda said. "Then the admiral filled out a new job application for me for the White House ... I had to go there for an interview, was unbelievably detailed and thorough intense background checks and, of course, involved the Secret Service. They went from everything from A to Z — I finally received clearance six months later."
The master chief at the White House liked him, he said, so he moved to Washington, D.C., to begin his tour of duty in the White House in 1995, becoming a chef and kitchen supervisor.
Reda said his time in the White House was one of the great experiences of his life.
"President Clinton was the coolest guy ... talked to everyone like he was your friend. The man had extraordinary charisma, an excellent memory and an amazing presence. You always knew when he was in the room," he said. "He knew my name, my parents' name, where I was from, where my parents were from ... he'd see me and say, 'we're going to Chicago next week, you coming?'"
Because of obvious security issues, Petty Officer Reda wasn't allowed to go into detail on many aspects of his time at the White House. However, he did say Clinton "really liked his food. It was a big thing when he walked through the kitchen."
One day the kitchen got a call that the president wasn't feeling well and that he wanted chicken noodle soup.
"We didn't have chicken noodle soup, so we had 12 guys making the different parts of the soup. One guy chopped carrots and celery, another did the stock, another cooked the chicken ... the camaraderie and the teamwork was outstanding, everyone helped each other," Reda said. "Everything we did was critical ... no room for mistakes, expectations had to be really high all the time. It was high stress, but a good stress."
He added that "if they called me to go back there tomorrow, I'd go in a second."
He described this trips on Air Force One as "the quietest and smoothest ride" he'd ever been on in the air.
"We had free movies, free phone calls, it was awesome," he smiled.
His final thoughts on service? "I shouldn't have gotten out when I did. I could have done 10 more years and retired, but life went the way it was supposed to. The military was good to me. I never got in trouble and have no regrets," he said.
He is now the head chef at the Proprietor's Lodge in Pittsfield and is allowing Berkshire County residents to enjoy his extraordinary fare.
Petty Officer Ron Reda, thank you for your service to our great country.
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