News: Two Marines feed a battalion, fuel the mission
Story by Lance Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
FORWARD OPERATING BASE JACKSON, Afghanistan – The tent looks like all the others around here: tan canvas, zipper doors and Velcro all around. Marines pass by without giving it a second glance, heading to work, the gym or guard duty.
Inside the tent, it’s hotter then the blazing Afghan sun. The strong aroma of grilled chicken and seasonings fills the room. The Marines work furiously, moving from tables to sinks to shelves and back again.
It’s noon, five hours before dinner, but these Marines know it takes hours of preparation to feed more than 400 hungry Marines.
“In the hours before hand we are taking portion counts, and making a complete menu,” said Cpl. Peter Espinoza, food service chief, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
Espinoza, from Chicago, said it’s especially important for Marines to get a balanced meal while in a deployed environment. Marines are patrolling and standing guard in Afghan heat. If they don’t get the right nutrients they can go down from heat exhaustion and fatigue.
“They are working so hard out here, so I make sure they have a starch, a protein, vegetables, and plenty of fluids,” said Espinoza.
Tonight, the Marines are eating steak and chicken fajitas, with onions, peppers, rice and pita bread.
Espinoza said the hot food is great for Marines who normally eat Meals, Ready-to-Eat, an instant, shelf-stable meal, when in the field.
“They come into the (mess) hall and see a vat full of hot food and their eyes light up,” said Lance Cpl. Thomas Nichols, food service specialist, 1st Bn., 7th Marines.
Nichols, from Williamsburg, Va., said he takes pride knowing he’s helping the morale of the troops. He knows they are hungry after a day of patrolling and is happy to help.
The food service specialists are challenged with keeping food sanitary in adverse conditions.
“There is a lot of dust everywhere, and with the hot weather, you really have to keep hot things hot and cold things cold,” said Espinoza.
Espinoza keeps his workstation organized to help sanitation. He keeps food separate and designates certain work areas inside the tent for specific tasks.
Espinoza and Nichols improvise at times, using a makeshift grill, or experimenting with desserts.
“We don’t have the things we normally have back in the (the United States),” said Espinoza, whose family owns several restaurants in Chicago. “We have to work with what we have.”
Nichols said while the tools may be different in a deployment, the mission is not: to feed and fuel Marines.
After everyone eats, and the mess hall quiets down, there are two Marines left. Espinoza and Nichols, stay after serving the other Marines to clean up, and prepare for breakfast. They’ll wake up early, to have hot breakfast ready for the Marines to start their day. They know they’re contributing to the mission – the fuel behind the battalion.
EDITOR’S NOTE: First Battalion, 7th Marines is a part of Regimental Combat Team 6. RCT-6 falls under 1st Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.