ARLINGTON, Va. --
In the heart of the Pentagon, where plans for the defense of an entire nation are made, the people directly responsible for our national security sometimes get hungry. But who makes sure their food is properly prepared each day?
For the secretary of defense, that would be Sgt. Anthony White, a native of Lynn, Mass., who enlisted in the Marine Corps Aug. 15, 2005.
Growing up in Massachusetts, White attended a vocational high school where he focused on the culinary arts. When he decided to enlist and it came time to choose a military operational specialty, he looked no further than food service.
White has not always cooked for the upper echelon of military and government organizations though. From January 2007 to February 2008, White deployed to Camp Gannon, a small outpost near Husaybah, Iraq. From there he worked out of a very tight-spaced trailer kitchen, cooking and serving chow to hundreds of Marines, sailors and soldiers at a time.
“I enjoyed feeding the grunts,” he said. “These guys come home from a patrol and don’t have much time to do anything, except maybe make a phone call or take a shower before going to sleep. Then they have to get back up and do it all over again in four hours. They don’t take their meals for granted.”
White landed his current job in December 2008 after going through a month-long screening and selection process. This required submitting an application for the position, going through several interviews, and tackling the challenge of the “mystery basket,” which involved creating and preparing a meal in a limited amount of time with a given container of various food items and ingredients.
“I made chicken stuffed with Swiss cheese topped with a white wine mushroom sauce,” White said.
Despite the fact that there is a strict quota of only one Marine who can hold this unique position at a time, White still met the selection criteria and got the job.
“He’s the most qualified,” said Army Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Chatman, White’s supervisor. “You have to love that.”
Chatman said a lot of prospective cooks get screened, but that it was White’s positive attitude and willingness to learn that won him over.
“He fits the bill,” Chatman said.
White has also made an impression on his coworkers.
“It’s fun working with him,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Kirsten Daniels, catering manager at the office of the secretary of defense mess. “He does a good job in the kitchen and knows how to create items on the move.”
White’s sense of humor in the workplace and laid-back demeanor are what surprised her at first, Daniels said. Before he arrived at the Pentagon, her image of a Marine was one of someone with a stern, no-nonsense attitude.
While White is the only Marine in the kitchen, there are several sailors, airmen and soldiers with whom he interacts every day, making him the Corps’ sole representative.
He routinely shatters the expectations of what some people might think of a Marine – mean, stoic and rugged – by maintaining a balance of professionalism and good-naturedness, Daniels said.
White said his current position is a three-year-long assignment but he can opt to stay longer at the end of that time.
Although White likes his job, there is still some everyday stress that comes with the territory.
“You’re serving people who are used to eating high-class, and so they sometimes get a little demanding,” White said.
It can get frantic when there are eight tables with everyone ordering something different, he added.
But White isn’t complaining. When first asked if he would like to come to the Pentagon to cook for the secretary of defense, he said he felt honored.
“Being here has all the perks in the world,” White said.