CAMP MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq -- The mood was boisterous among the Navy Seabees here Sept. 10 as they opened their first mess hall.
The group had turned a slab of concrete in the ground into 8,400 square feet of insulated, air-conditioned and fortified space for eating and relaxation. The mess hall was built for the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"It cost the American taxpayers $1.5 million to build this chow hall, and the Marines couldn't be happier," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Paul Verratti, 25, crew leader and native of Pittsburgh, Pa. "It took us three weeks to put it all together, and we're very proud of what we've done."
The opening ceremony was followed by a dinner featuring T-bone steaks, corn and mashed potatoes. Steaks were a special treat for the Marines but there was something they appreciated even more.
"It used to be a big inconvenience to eat. It was hot, and we had to wear all of our gear because we didn't have any protection from mortars," said Cpl. Michael S. Edwards, 23, supply clerk and native of Cincinnati, Ohio. "Now it's tight. It looks good, feels good and you can't beat air conditioning out here."
The building was completed with 100 cubic meters of concrete and thousands of pounds of nails to hold all the lumber together. It features a main galley and three separate rooms for sitting.
"This thing has 12 air conditioning units, which required us to run 2,000 feet of electrical cable for the a/c and lights," said Verratti. "Wood serves as a good insulator, so it will keep the cool air in better than the tent the Marines were eating in when they got here."
Ultimately, there was just one goal for the Seabees.
"We're just here to provide the grunts with a better place to eat, our small way of saying thanks for what they do," said Verratti.
Building a modern chow hall in Iraq was a complex task that had many speed bumps involving contractors and supplies.
"Getting supplies on time was a major problem, but we made do with what we had," said Verratti.
The Seabees borrowed building materials from the Marines when they could.
With the unit's departure less than a month away, the Marines now have somewhere they can go for some relaxation and down time when not on patrol.
"The chow is really a morale booster. It has more space and seats than our old one and they don't have to wear their gear in here," said Staff Sgt. Christopher R. Bowser, 30, assistant mess chief and native of Sandy Lakes, Pa. "We can get them through the lines faster so they can sit down and watch some satellite TV while they eat."
The general mood of the camp has risen since the opening of the new mess facility. With their replacing unit on it's way in, Bowser has just one wish for them.
"I hope the incoming unit continues to serve the chow hot, has decent food and takes care of the Marines coming through this line," said Bowser.