8/19/2011 -- CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Luxuries in the desert of Helmand province are hard to come by, but at Camp Leatherneck coalition service members are the benefactors of one of them: hot meals.
Whether supervising a mess hall kitchen or heating up pre-made meals in more remote areas of the province, food service Marines work relentless hours to make sure coalition troops have the fuel to fight.
“If there weren’t food service Marines then nobody would be eating,” said Sgt. Maria Marques, the correspondence operations representative at Dining Facility 2 at Camp Leatherneck, and a native of South River, N.J. “If they’re not eating, they have no energy to go outside the wire and carry out the mission. How would we be out there doing what we have to do in Afghanistan if these guys weren’t eating?”
The food service Marines are in charge of making sure dining facility meals are served at the correct temperature, chow halls are clean and food is cooked in accordance with armed forces recipe cards.
They are also responsible for replenishing everything edible throughout the day. This can be quite the chore, since the chow halls at Camp Leatherneck are open 24/7. The chow halls serve an average 4,000 meals, adding up to more than 350,000 meals a month.
The food service Marines also work to provide a diverse menu at dining facilities, including curry, Italian and stir fry. It is a simple way to keep things different and keep smiles on troops faces, explained Staff Sgt. John Tuliper, the assistant mess chief with Task Force Belleau Wood, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), and a native of Proctor, Vt.
On top of making sure troops are fed, the culinary specialists are also expected to be able to take their cooking capabilities outside the camp at a moment’s notice.
“At the field mess if we needed to pick up and go feed Marines outside the wire we could grab all our equipment, load it on trucks and go out there,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Talbot, the field mess chief for Marine Wing Support Squadron 272, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd.), and a native of Paw Paw, Mich.
Away from the relative comfort of Camp Leatherneck and other large coalition bases, food service Marines with field mess units spend the majority of their time at small patrol and forward operating bases, using culinary field equipment to prepare three meals a day, Talbot explained.
These Marines, usually in groups of less than five, must set up their equipment of pots, pans and heaters to prepare field ration meals, which are basically super-sized meals ready to eEat. They are also in charge of ensuring MREs are available for when operations make cooked meals unfeasible.
The Marines providing these necessities are not in it for the glory, Talbot said.
“I joined food service because I love to cook,” he explained. “It’s a good feeling knowing that you’re in charge of feeding your Marines. I really like the job and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
“When [Marines] come in from the long [convoys], I think it’s awesome that we can provide a little piece of home,” Tuliper observed. “That’s the greatest thing about food service…I get to provide a piece of home and a smile on somebody’s face.”