"Kicking It Up A Notch"
By Tech. Sgt Mark Olsen, NJDMAVA/PAO

Emeril Lagasse (left) and Master Sgt. John Nicotra (right) during the
                taping of the Thanksgiving with our Troops show at McGuire Air
                Force Base. Photo courtesy 305th Air Mobility Wing Mulitmedia
                Center.It all started with a postcard sent during Operation Iraqi Freedom…

“ Dear Emeril,
Can you please send your favorite recipe for jambalaya to the Defense Dept. I kicked it up a notch [this is one of Emeril Lagasse’s, trademark slogans from his Food Television Network TV show] with a bottle of Tabasco, which came with the MRE.

Your fan in the desert,
MSGT John J. Nicotra”

Master Sgt. Nicotra, 177th Fighter Wing dining hall supervisor, was deployed together with 17 other members of the 177th Fighter Wing Services Flight in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from March 21 through July 3. During that period, he served at both Ar’ Ar in Saudi Arabia and Baghdad International Airport.

When he didn’t get a reply, no one was surprised. When they arrived in Baghdad there was a letter with five recipes and some photos of Emeril.

In late August, a representative of the Food Network approached the New Jersey National Guard with a request for a Blackhawk helicopter. It was needed it for the introduction to the "Thanksgiving with our Troops" show, which was to be taped at McGuire Air Force Base. Members of the 1st Battalion, 150th General Support Aviation Battalion were tapped for the duty.

Back at the 177th, Master Sgt. Nicotra was invited to attend the show as one of the guests of honor.

Blackhawk crewchief Sgt. Eric Chambers (right) straps in Emeril Lagasse
        (left) prior to taking off. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Mark Olsen, NJDMAVA/PAO.

At 6 pm on Sept. 26, the actual taping was done. The theme was turkey. For anyone who has not seen the Emeril show, the layout copied the New York taping except on a larger scale – approximately 1,200 active-duty, guard and reserve members attended. The show revolves around Emeril cooking for people sitting at a counter.

For the second segment, Master Sgt. Nicotra, along with POW Pfc. Shoshona Johnson and country music singer Trace Atkins were the guests of honor. Also at the counter was a cluster of Jambalaya MREs with Master Sgt. Nicotra’s postcard. The show aired Nov. 16.

On Sept. 27, Emeril and his entourage showed up for the Blackhawk flight. His crew was pilot Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Millevoi, Co-pilot Capt. Ryan Kelley, with Sgt. Eric Chambers as the crew chief. Once they were in the air, Emeril taped his introduction.

All this goes to prove that all it takes is one letter to "kick things up a notch."