- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 31, 2005

RICHMOND — Army cook David J. Longstaff says he had safely gone into downtown Baghdad to fetch groceries and other supplies more than 150 times before the danger unfolded in front of him one sweltering afternoon in August 2003.

Chief Warrant Officer Longstaff was returning to his base when he spotted a Humvee hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and five soldiers pinned by insurgent fire.

His heroic and split-second decisions would save their lives and earn him a Bronze Star with Valor.

“I was intrigued that, as a cook, I found myself in the middle of Baghdad taking fire,” said Chief Warrant Officer Longstaff, a food-service technician with the 1st Armored Division. “It just goes to show what you can do when put into any situation. So you should just be prepared.”

Chief Warrant Officer Longstaff, 43, positioned his Humvee between the insurgents and the ambushed soldiers, then ordered the other vehicles in his convoy to secure the rear. Standing behind his Humvee, he then began firing, providing cover for the injured to move to safety.

He now recalls the 15-minute firefight as if it occurred in slow motion — including the “tinking” of the bullets hitting a light post, which he calls the eeriest sound he has ever heard.

Sgt. 1st Class Richard Bryant was part of Chief Warrant Officer Longstaff’s convoy. He said Chief Warrant Officer Longstaff’s handling of the situation is a “true testament of his technical and tactical expertise.”

“His actions are nothing short of heroic,” Sgt. Bryant said.

Chief Warrant Officer Longstaff, now chief of the Advanced Culinary Skills Branch at Fort Lee, 25 miles south of Richmond, was recently awarded his medal.

The recognition has been humbling but remains something he can share with his family: wife Ginger, son Jonathan, 13, and son Michael, 18, who is in the Navy.

Chief Warrant Officer Longstaff said the experience surpassed what he expected when he left his hometown of Orlando, Fla., to join the Army 22 years ago and far different from what he encountered during his early training.

He also said the military is using such incidents to better train soldiers for the new urban warfare.

Today, Chief Warrant Officer Longstaff is the manager of the Army culinary team and trains cooks for the highest levels of service at the White House and the Pentagon and on Air Force One. He also leads a battle of his own doing — a culinary competition among more than 150 soldiers.

“Regardless of where you compete in the world of chefs, we are warriors first, and that’s important,” he said.

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