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The NMCB 4 Food Service Team, (left to right) LSC Uoni Lazarno, CS1 Jason Wozniak, Lt. j.g. Anthony Martinez, CS2 Cesar Torres, Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Markich, CS3 Chaohua Lin, Ens. Bradley Lawler, CS3 Markeisha Demery, and CS1 Alex Garado.
The world of expeditionary logistics constantly provides opportunities for Supply officers to stretch their capabilities and accomplish challenging missions.
For the Food Service Division of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4, our chance came during our three-week field training exercise in Fort Hunter-Liggett, Calif., from October 29 to November 18, 2012.
As part of pre-deployment training, Seabee battalions undergo a graded field training exercise in order to be certified “ready for deployment.” Included in the requirements are between three to five days of field galley operations, serving hot meals for breakfast and dinner. Normally, this evolution takes place at the beginning of the exercise while the battalion is still located in the Logistics Staging Area (LSA). Next, the unit relocates to a forward operating base (FOB) where they subsist solely on pre-packaged MRE’s (Meals Ready-to-Eat) and basic supplemental items such as soup and nutrition bars. However, the decision was made to test our limits by bringing the field galley to the FOB, and continuing full operations throughout the exercise.
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CECN Courtney Mason (left) and UTCN Ashley Blue serve dinner to members of NMCB 4.
Under the leadership of Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Markrich, and with the support Lt. j.g. Anthony Martinez, the team of Culinary Specialists (CSs) began the daunting task of working through the logistical and operational requirements of the mission. In addition to ordering the necessary food and equipment for the galley itself, prescribed hygiene standards were maintained in a remote field location for an extended period of time. Fortunately, erecting field showers and laundry facilities to support hygiene is no problem for a group of Seabees. Another obstacle facing the operation was the limited number of dedicated personnel. With only five CSs for the entire battalion of 580, a large portion of the work fell on 15 food service attendants (FSAs) selected from outside the Supply Department. The FSAs completed a two-week course that covered sanitation, safety, and basic food service principles in order to prepare them for their job.
“With so few trained cooks, the FSAs were forced to play a large role in this operation,” explained CS1 Jason Wozniak, Division Leading Petty Officer (LPO). “They had to endure longer hours and harsher conditions than their counterparts in the fleet, but they did perform admirably.”
Once NMCB 4 put boots on the ground in Fort Hunter Liggett, the initial set up of the galley operation was a battalion-wide effort. In addition to erecting the galley, serving, and mess tents, the facility needed electricity, a full cleaning for sanitation purposes, as well as inspections by the battalion’s medical and safety personnel. The team also received and inventoried more than 100 pallets of supplies delivered by vendors from across the country. Once the facility was squared away, the food service operations commenced.
A typical day for the field galley starts with the turnover of the “Night Crew” to the “Day Crew” at 5 a.m. Final preparations are made on the mess decks, and the food is put out on the serving line before the doors open at 5:30 a.m. Breakfast is served until 7 a.m., and then, after a thorough cleaning of the spaces, breakouts are commenced for dinner.
In addition to thawing and cooking the evening meal, the midday hours are spent doing a multitude of different tasks including inventories, monitoring freezer and refrigerator temperatures, lunchtime MRE distribution, and delivering supplemental items to the troops on watch in the fighting positions. Given the cold weather and long hours -- the temperature sank into the 20’s on many occasions -- a care package full of candy, pop-tarts, and hot chocolate can dramatically boost a Sailor’s morale.
The second hot meal of the day is served between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., after which the “Day Crew” did breakouts for the next morning’s breakfast, thoroughly clean the spaces again, and then turn over to the “Night Crew.” Those hardened Sailors would brave the cold weather and darkness to cook the morning meal and finish any tasks needed for their daytime counterparts. There was never any down time in the galley, but the team can be proud of their efforts in working around the clock to put out a great product.
The Food Service Division’s hard work paid off. The galley served 16,400 hot meals to the battalion and added two special Veteran’s Day lunches served by the Junior Officers one day and the Chief Petty Officers the next. The team distributed 38 pallets of MREs and 50 pallets of supplemental items to support the Seabees in the command posts and fighting positions. The jump from the LSA to the FOB was also executed with a high level of efficiency and precision.
A mere 29 hours after the convoy arrived at the new location, 19 hours ahead of schedule, the galley was fully operational and serving a hot dinner to more than 500 personnel. However, most importantly, all of this was accomplished with no safety mishaps and no food-borne illnesses.
At the battalion-wide awards ceremony following the field exercise, multiple CSs and FSAs received recognition for their efforts, as the commanding officer and command master chief presented command coins to them. For his efforts leading the “Day Crew,” the division ALPO, CS1 Alex Garado, was presented a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. Operating the galley in that environment for such an extended period of time was a tremendous challenge, but the Sailors far exceeded expectations and set the new standard for NMCB field galleys.
The decision to push the envelope of expeditionary food service paid off. The food service team now has a positive experience that puts them ahead of their peers in other battalions, and puts NMCB 4’s young Sailors on the cutting edge of what can be accomplished in the field.
By Ens. Bradley Lawler, SC, USN
Food Service Officer, NMCB 4