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Field chow provides sight for sore eyes for Afghanistan-bound Marines

6 Aug 2009 | Lance Cpl. Benjamin Crilly 1st Marine Division

When the wife’s or mom’s home cooking isn’t an option, Marines in the field resort to the best alternative – field chow.

For Marines and sailors, the meals, or “field mess,” are something they can look forward to, living “chow-to-chow.”

In order to provide service members with hot meals while in the field or during a deployment, Marine food service specialists hone their skills in the privatized dining installations throughout the Corps.  

When called upon, these Marines pack up their gear, follow units to their area of operations and provide the war fighters with two hot meals a day.

“Coming out and operating in the field is a transition. You take those skills you learned in garrison and you hone them out here,” said Master Sgt. Brian M. Velloza, 46, the regimental mess chief for 7th Marine Regiment, from Georgetown, Guyana. “The way we set up and support here is designed to prepare (field mess specialists) to follow a unit out and support them in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The field mess breaks the monotony of eating the pre-packaged Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs. The surgeon general warns consuming MREs consistently for more than 21 days has unintended effects upon service members. These negative effects can prevent Marines from focusing on their mission while deployed.

“If I had to eat MREs for 21 days, I would be angry,” said Pfc. Juan Ocampo, 21, a radio operator with Headquarters Company, 7th Marine Regiment, from Gurnee, Ill. “Sitting down with hot chow relaxes you. It’s not the same as a home-cooked meal, but it’s pretty close”

In addition to bringing a taste of home to deployed service members, the hot meals keep spirits high.

“I consider (field mess cooks) to be a morale booster. We are a very care-giving (military occupational specialty),” said Sgt. Mario W. Martinez, 27, a food service specialist for 7th Marine Regiment, from Arlington, Va. “We are the ones that keep the tempo going.”

This care is not limited to the morale boost the hot chow brings, but also provides nutrients necessary for keeping Marines and sailors in the fight.

Fruit, vegetables and electrolyte-filled beverages are available to sustain the physical and mental health of Marines.

“As far as chow is concerned, I am very pleased with how (the field mess Marines) have handled themselves,” said Sgt. Vincent S. Ginestra, 28, a data networking specialist for Headquarters Company, 7th Marine Regiment, from Kansas City, Mo. “Whether Marines realize it or not, especially in this desert environment, they need calories. Getting (those nutrients) into their system is a vital part of accomplishing their mission.”

Soon, the mission of the Marines of Regimental Combat Team 7 will include a deployment to Afghanistan, so a full stomach may go a long way.

1st Marine Division