MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON -- Tucked away in the brush of the Las Pulgas Area, amid a myriad of camouflaged field tents in support of Ulchi Focus Lens 00, lurks the distinct aroma of hot chow, a rarity in most field environments.
Thirteen Marines from Headquarters and Service Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group, Food Service Platoon, have been working around the clock preparing meals daily for more than 100 Marines, and preparing themselves for evaluation day for the I Marine Expeditionary Force Field Food Service Excellence Award.
The evolution of building a field-mess facility and preparing two hot meals daily for the Marines participating in UFL 00 here, involves more than prepping and cooking food. In a field environment, food service specialists must build cooking and dining facilities that offer protection from adverse weather conditions, all of which is done without electricity or plumbing.
As with all other aspects of a field environment, food service Marines must also provide security and establish a perimeter around the mess facilities, in addition to ensuring all the Marines in camp are fed.
Sanitation is a major concern for the field-mess mission, including pest control and hand washing stations.
"The Marines are learning how to provide food service in a combat environment, which can be very stressful," said GySgt. Ernest D. Rankin, food service chief. "They're really learning what teamwork means and how important leadership is in (the field environment)," Rankin added.
Marines must plan menus, ensure the proper rations are available, ensure proper cleaning and preparation of produce and provide accessible serve lines.
Most of the Marines have little or no first field-mess experience. "This is my first field-mess and it's been pretty tough," said LCpl. Bryan Rinaman, food service specialist. "I've had fun and definitely learned a lot about being in the field," the Tiffin, Ohio-native said.
"This is also my first field-mess, and it's been a fun and challenging experience," said LCpl. Ralph C. Rendon. "The major difference from being in the rear is that there is more emphasis on sanitation out here in the field," the Fresno, Calif.-native explained.
The field-mess Marines had only one person with prior field-mess experience, adding to the challenges of the operation. "The Marines have been handling all of this very well, overcoming and adapting to obstacles as they come up," Rankin said. "Some days the Marines are up at 2 a.m. and don't hit the rack until 10 p.m., but they're staying motivated," he added.
"(The food service specialists) have really made all this come together to give Marines out here some good chow in a clean facility," Rankin said. Coupled with the assistance and support of his fellow staff non-commissioned officers, Rankin said the field-mess has been a success.
Currently the 1st FSSG food service Marines are competing with the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, for the opportunity to represent I MEF in the Corps-wide Ney Hill Food Service Excellence Award. The final announcement will be made this week.