By Cpl. John Robbart III , 15th MEU
USS PELELIU — The blue-green team mindset is a part of every section aboard the Iron Nickel. The cooks on the ship are no exception, as they put in long hours, day in and day out, to ensure their Marines and sailors are properly fed.
Preparing food may not be their favorite part of their job, but taking care of the servicemembers who have been working tirelessly is.
“Seeing people’s faces after seeing the meals we prepared boosts their morale and mine,” said Sgt. Refugio Gil, food service specialist, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “This is the best job in the Marine Corps,” added the 28-year-old native of Nipomo, Calif.
Gil’s day starts at 7 a.m., when he makes his way into the galley, or kitchen. Breakfast has already been served and his crew is about to clean their workspace in preparation for lunch and dinner. A stereo plays music in the background to motivate the hard-working cooks. Morale is high.
The mess men, a temporary duty assigned to Marines and sailors to assist the food service specialists who prepare the meals for the Marines and sailors of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group, are responsible for the neat appearance of the area where the Marines and sailors will eat. Additionally, some serve the food and others clean the trays and silverware.
“Some of the mess men really do a great job,” said Gil. “It gives them a chance to get out of their regular jobs and learn some new skills. Especially if they get a chance to feed their Marines, it gives them some extra insight on what cooks do.”
Outside of the kitchen, certain jobs require Marines and sailors to work a graveyard shift. For those troops, they have midnight rations or “midrats,” so they can eat even during late hours. Those meals are prepared by the night crew.
“Having the Marines around is a big help,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Allan I. Stephens, culinary specialist, USS Peleliu. “We show them some of our techniques, but all-in-all we look out for one and other,” added the 22-year-old native of El Paso, Texas.
Service is a common theme, regardless of which uniform the servicemember wears.
“I love being here to serve others,” said Sgt. Victor M. Pachecoperez, food service specialist, Command Element, 15th MEU. “Maintaining a high standard of food quality and ensuring meals are prepared in a timely manner is one of our top priorities,” added the 25-year-old native of Kenilworth, N.J.
The two sergeants work together with the Navy to make sure they accomplish their mission aboard ship.
“This is the Navy’s house, we are here to assist them,” he said. “They run the galley, and [the Marines] are glad to work with a different branch of service. They are really good cooks, more familiar with the environment, and are in turn able to help us out.”
While each service may do things a bit differently, one thing is always the same: sanitation.
“Sanitation is such a huge part of our job,” said Pachecoperez. “We get inspected daily by the ship’s food service chief.”
The food service chiefs, both Navy and Marine Corps, work hand-in-hand to accomplish a common mission of supporting the warfighter.
“The work these Marines and sailors put in drive the morale of the ship,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Joshua A. Smith, food service leading chief petty officer, USS Peleliu. “We’re here to support both Marines and sailors. Hopefully by us doing our job better, they can do theirs better too,” added the 37-year-old native of Reading, Pa.
When asked about his favorite part about his job, Smith didn’t hesitate when he said the Marines and sailors.
“It’s also the most challenging part of my job too,” he added with a chuckle, as he described bringing together 147 Marines and sailors and working with his Marine counterpart to motivate them toward the accomplishment of their mission.
Smith works with Gunnery Sgt. Corey O. Wright, the 15th MEU’s mess chief. Together, they are responsible for the sanitation, food service preparation, accounting and logistical planning that is involved before at-sea periods and deployment.
“I love being around Marines, that’s what makes this job so great,” said Wright. “Everyone has to eat at some point so I always get a chance to interact with them when they come by,” added the 38-year-old native of Xenia, Ohio.
The relationship Wright and Smith have helps make their operation successful.
“When I met senior chief, we immediately agreed on a ‘one team, one fight’ mindset,” said Wright. “Trying to please everyone isn’t easy, but we try our best.”