Navy mess specialists in Iraq “kick it up a notch”

Navy mess specialists in Iraq “kick it up a notch”

Al Bloom

SOUTHERN IRAQ (NNS)–When you’re working in support of the first Navy Expeditionary Medical Facility ever established in a war zone–Fleet Hospital (FH) 3–at the very end of the supply lines and providing meals for patients and more than 300 staff, secret ingredients become secondary to experience and good old fashioned American ingenuity.

“These guys have done a fantastic job,” said Chief Mess Management Specialist (SW) Ron Brooks, Fleet Hospital 3’s Patient Galley leading chief. “We’ve all had to do business different than what we’re used to, but when it comes to chow, people don’t want to hear excuses.”

“The first meal I had here was breakfast,” said Lance Corporal Chris Zimny of Chicago, who arrived at FH-3 after hurting his back in support of 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines Alpha Company. “I had eggs, bacon, potatoes, and it was all hot. After three solid weeks of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) near An Nasariyah and An Dergehbeh, a hot meal was a welcome change. It was great.”

Whether serving hot meals or their campwide favorite cookies, being in the desert of Southern Iraq has meant that for the FH-3 mess specialists, thinking out-of-the-box is standard operating procedure.

“Whatever we do, we take into account the nutritional benefits of our patients and staff,” said FH-3 Food Service Officer LT Connie Todd, from Slayton, Minn. “We’ve looked into every avenue possible to secure the best supplies available, but if it weren’t for us having a great team, none of that hard work would payoff.”

“Yeah, we’ve done a little trading and bargaining to get some items, but that’s not that unusual when you think about it,” said Brooks. “Networking is a way of life in the military–especially out here. In the end, we’ re all trying to take care of our people and provide them with good meals, so it’s not as hard as you might think.”

“There are some items that are surprisingly easy to get, like those Cup of Noodles,” added Brooks pointing to a shelf full of dehydrated ramen-style noodles. “But, fresh fruit and vegetables are tougher.”

Even after working long and hard to secure the best available food stuffs, FH-3 mess specialists really earn their stripes when it’s time to put a meal together.

“We know how important what we do is,” said Mess Management Specialist 1st Class (SW) Wil Olter from Ponape, Micronesia. “We’re all working long and hard out here, so having a good meal can actually have a big impact on morale.”

“We try to do the best we can with what we’ve got,” said Mess Management Specialist 3rd Class (SW) Darnell Parker, of Naval Hospital Great Lakes, Ill. “Chief was able to get recipe cards for us, but when they (recipe cards) call for an ingredient we just don’t have in stock, we end up getting creative. That’s when it gets fun.”

The success of any bistro or fine restaurant is often measured by how difficult it is to get a table, and judging from the crowds at FH-3 galley, the mess specialists “kicking it up a notch” has been a resounding success.

COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Department of the Navy, Supply Systems Command

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group