HIT, Iraq --
While some Marines have trouble making an edible hot pocket for themselves at home, the chow hall Marines of Task Force 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 have proven themselves qualified cooks, even in Iraq.
The Marines at the chow hall both cook and serve different meals every day, ranging from turkey and mashed potatoes to ribs and corn. Depending on the operation tempo, they sometimes make enough food to feed hundreds of Marines in one day.
Despite the lack of an indoor galley full of equipment as they have at home in Twentynine Palms, Calif., the field mess specialists manage to keep the food on the table and provide a sanitary environment for cooking and eating.
“We don’t have the same equipment as we had in Twentynine Palms, that’s for sure. We don’t have any ovens to make certain items, and we don’t have hot boxes to keep items hot,” said Staff Sgt. Jose M. Lopez, 34, a field mess chief from Levelland, Texas, with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines.
Keeping hot chow on the table can make life a little easier for Marines who have been working long hours or have just come back from missions.
“I try and get whatever I can to please the Marines out here. It’s supposed to be a (Meal Ready to Eat) for lunch, but we try to get them a hot meal,” Lopez said. “We’re already out here (in Iraq). Most Marines don’t want to have a MRE, especially when they’ve been on post all day. We try to make them feel more at home in a field environment.”
Creativity and flexibility in the kitchen are important when supplies and equipment are limited. The Marines try to keep the menu fresh when they’re deployed to keep everyone happy.
“The advantage of working out here is that we can pretty much create our own recipes if we choose to do so. We learn from experiences in the past and actually put them to use out here,” said Sgt. Travis A. Ruffin, 25, a field mess specialist attached to Company L, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines. “I wouldn’t say it’s a difficult job, but it’s a steady job. We can’t please everybody, but we try to.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of maintaining a chow hall while deployed is sanitation.
“We’ve got to be up on our sanitation here because we’re in a field environment. Sanitation is very important over here because if we don’t keep our equipment clean and we don’t keep our food at certain temperatures, we could get people sick,” Lopez said.
“It’s harder to keep (the chow hall) clean out here, so we clean more than we do back at Twentynine Palms. Sanitation helps keep Marines in the fight,” said Lance Cpl. David A, Charlot, 20, a cook from Brooklyn, N.Y., attached to Company I, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines.
The field mess Marines know how important it is for them to do their jobs well. It’s more than just food in the belly for Marines, it’s a chance for them to rest and relax during a long day of work.
“(Other Marines) work just as hard as we do. This is their time to get together, enjoy chow and have a good time. We try to provide them with as much as we can to make sure they’re happy so they can push out and do a good job in the field,” Ruffin said.