Photo Information

Marine Food Service Specialists prepare breakfast at Phelps Mess Hall for hundreds of Marines on a daily basis.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Katelyn A. Knauer

Combat Cooks: the hidden workers

7 Sep 2006 | Lance Cpl. Regina N. Ortiz

It is 5:30 a.m. You roll over, hit the alarm clock and get up ready to start your day. You don’t have to worry about chow because you’re going to get three square meals a day provided in a nicely furnished mess hall with televisions and a variety of food. The preparation and time put into the food is probably the last thing on your mind as you chow down. Military Occupational Specialty 3381 probably isn’t a familiar number, but the job title "cook" is. It’s a job field that often gets overlooked or battered by many Marines, but the daily life of a Marine cook is not easy.Depending on what shift a cook gets, you could be snug in your bed as they are already up starting their day before the sun has even come up. Many get up at 3:30 a.m. to start getting ready for their busy day ahead. By 4 a.m. they are getting daily inspections of their hair, fingernails and uniform to insure proper sanitization. Around 4:15 a.m. all the food is being prepared, cooked and made ready to be served. Setting up for meals involves a lot of rushing to make sure the mess hall is prepared to serve the Marines and sailors who walk through the doors. At 5:30 the service line is set up and the mess hall begins to fill with hungry Marines."The schedule is necessary, so that we can have breakfast ready by 5:30 a.m.," said Sgt. Eduardo Hernandez. "It is long hours, but someone has to do it."To attain the MOS of Basic Food Service Specialist a Marine must attend a 12-week basic course in Fort Lee, Va. Along with the odd hours, a cook must also maintain the standards set forth for Marines and complete all annual training."We still go to the gas chamber, the rifle range and do our physical fitness test and swim qualifications," said Staff Sgt. David Rothenberger who has been a food service specialist for 15 years and is now the chief cook at Phelps Mess Hall.It’s Saturday afternoon. If you want chow on a weekend, where do you go? The mess hall. Cooks not only have hectic weekday schedules like their fellow Marines, they also work every other weekend. On top of all that, Marines still need to eat during holidays, so the mess halls must remain open to serve.To put the amount of work cooks do into perspective, consider this. Families host backyard picnics and make hamburgers for themselves and their friends, while cooks feed hundreds of Marines three times a day -- at breakfast, lunch and dinner."Right now we are feeding approximately 600 Marines for lunch alone," said Master Sgt. Pedro Rosado, Regimental Mess Manager. "Then we have about 450 for breakfast and 500 for dinner. This is a very slow month too because there are whole battalions deployed. The typical numbers that come through for lunch are closer to 900."Along with providing food in the mess hall, cooks also prepare field meals for infantry battalions and are also fully deployable themselves."Right now I have 53 Marines deployed," said Rosado. "I have Marines in Al Asad, Okinawa, Korean Village, Al Qa’im, Fallujah then I have Marines working with Mojave Viper, Bridgeport cold weather training and some also attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit."Currently there are 39 deployable food service Marines working in Phelps Mess Hall who are periodically sent on the Fleet Assistance Program to Headquarters Battalion, Bravo Company. Along with the cooks in the mess hall and those currently deployed, 21 food service Marines are permanently assigned to base food service in non-deployable billets who work to support two mess halls on base and one at Camp Wilson.The mess hall must also meet strict sanitation regulations. The mess hall receives 24 unannounced inspections, two announced Naval Hospital inspections and one technical inspection a month."Just think about it like this if a Marine fails field day he just does field day again," said Rothenberger. "If we fail field day we get shut down."Whether it is here or overseas, these cooks are ready to serve with a satisfaction from a job well done."I enjoy cooking, it’s making magic happen with food," said Rothenberger.
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