USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At Sea -- Standing over warm trays of food with a serving spoon in hand and a paper hat on his head, an infantry Marine serves his brothers and sisters their afternoon meal.
Marines and Sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit work alongside their Navy counterparts on the three ships of Amphibious Squadron 11 to feed thousands daily during the MEU’s Spring Patrol 2013.
“If Marines and Sailors start their day with a good breakfast, their morale throughout the day and work ethic will increase,” said Gunnery Sgt. Mohammed B. Hossain, a mess chief with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU, and a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “The mess-men have to ensure a good quality of food for the service members aboard the ship for their health and morale.”
More than 2,000 Marines and Sailors on the USS BHR alone line up outside the mess areas to receive their daily rations of hot food. The mess crew cooks 42,000 servings of hot food to complete the four meals that are served each day. The crew also prepares desserts, assortments of fruit, and cold and hot drinks.
From beef stew and potatoes to fried fish with rice, the diverse menu is planned monthly. A group of junior and senior enlisted crew members choose the monthly menu with the goal of providing well-balanced meals. An appropriate variety and amount of meats, vegetables, starches and sugars are carefully chosen with regard to the service members’ energy and health.
The crew must maintain a tight record of the amount of food used and stored, as resupply only happens once every 30 days or so. As a result of the limited resupply options available, the ship’s freezer contains the nutritional well-being of thousands of hungry service members.
“If we do not keep track of the food and minimize the amount of waste, the entire ship could be stuck eating (Meals Ready to Eat),” said Hossain.
The mess halls are split into four feeding grounds: the Mess Deck, the largest of the three, which feeds all service members at the pay grade of E-6 and below; the Chief Petty Officers’ mess, where the E-7 and above enlisted pay grade enjoy their meals; the Wardroom, which serves the officers aboard the ship; and the Flag Mess, a dining room for senior Navy and Marine officers.
In addition to offering the Marines and Sailors a place to eat, the mess decks also provide a large gathering area to enjoy a movie or simply hold a conversation over a cup of coffee. But before the areas can be used for other purposes, a dedicated cadre cleans every nook and cranny, ensuring the frequently-used mess decks are constantly sanitized.
“We clean every inch of this mess deck, from the soda machines to the tables we eat from,” said Lance Cpl. Levi A. W. Grisham, a rifleman with the Maritime Raid Force, 31st MEU, and a native of Stillwater, Okla. “After we are done, the chairs typically fill with Marines and Sailors talking or playing cards.”
While the work is laborious and long, the Marines and Sailors who temporarily fill the position of mess crewmen find a sense of purpose. From the Sailor scrubbing food trays to the Marine dishing out the meals, each recognizes their place in keeping the MEU and PHIBRON ready.
“We cook and clean to keep the ship’s crew and the Marines well fed, something that is important for mission readiness,” said Seaman Apprentice Erica K. Burden, a culinary specialist with the USS BHR, and a native of Tipp City, Ohio. “Through this chow hall passes the Marines and Sailors who work to keep the ship running and those preparing to conduct operations in the field.”
The 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 recently participated in the multilateral exercise Cobra Gold in the Kingdom of Thailand, conducting a wide variety of training events designed to promote regional prosperity, security and cooperation among partner militaries.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.