FORT PICKETT, Va. --
At 3:00 a.m., long before sunrise, they report to the kitchen to set up what they need to do their job.
As they move around the kitchen finalizing the eggs and hash browns prepared the night before, they gather their necessary ingredients to provide a nutritious and hearty meal to a multitude of hungry Marines and Sailors.
Pushing to have the meal prepared before the mess hall doors open, the food service Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit man their stations cooking, mixing and enhancing their individual dishes.
By the time the Fort Pickett, Va., mess hall doors open at 5:30 a.m., the messmen are at their stations ready to dish up the hot food they have spent hours making.
As the hungry men and women file in to chow down on breakfast, the messhall Marines begin to prepare the evening meal.
To some this may seem like an extreme schedule, but according to these MEU Marines, their demanding responsibilities are part of their duty to country and to fellow warriors conducting pre-deployment training aboard Fort Pickett.
“People don’t realize how much work it takes to prepare and serve these meals every day,” Daniel J. Vicente, a food service specialist with the 26th MEU’s Combat Logistics Battalion 26, said about the 17 hours the mess hall Marines put into preparing, enhancing and serving food.
Vicente added their mission at Fort Pickett was to provide chow for the three elements of the MEU and get used to what can often be a fast-paced job.
“A lot of us have not been on ship before, so Fort Pickett was our chance to get into the groove of things,” Vicente explained, alluding that the MEU’s upcoming deployment aboard the ships of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group will present new challenges for the messmen.
“It can get pretty hectic considering all the people we have to feed.” Staff Sgt. Jessica A. King said her job as 26th MEU mess chief during the Fort Pickett training included supplying and coordinating culinary services for more than 1,400 service members. “One of the toughest jobs for me is to accommodate all personnel, fulfill all the requests for chow and give down time for the mess hall Marines,” King said.
She said despite all her responsibilities, her Marines are what make the mess hall functional. “I am just here to supervise,” King said. “The Marines preparing and serving are the most important part. Without them I would have no job.”
Besides providing food to so many during the Fort Pickett training, the mess hall Marines also got a chance to refine their culinary skills.
“This is their chance to learn what works and what doesn’t,” King explained. “They work really hard and take pride in what they do.”
She said their pride in cooking and satisfaction in meeting a necessity for so many helps to overcome the long hours they put into their products.
“One of the greatest feelings I have is bringing food out to field training,” Vicente said. “There everyone is tired and on edge and they really appreciate when we bring them food.”
The mess hall Marines’ drive for culinary perfection will continue through the pre-deployment training and well into deployment later this year, they said.
“We are going to be the ones serving food on the ship,” Vicente said. “We really want to give some quality food they are going to want to eat. I know that is what I would want.”
Vicente expressed his pride in a modified motivational line. “Food service specialist, tip of the spatula,” Vicente said.
26th MEU can be followed on its Web site, http://www.marines.mil/unit/26thmeu/Pages/welcome.aspx