PATROL BASE ALCATRAZ, HELMAND PROVINCE , AFGHANISTAN
PATROL BASE ALCATRAZ, Helmand province, Afghanistan – Most people do not think twice about the food they eat each day and come to assume three hot meals will be available. The Marines with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion quickly realized the value of a hot meal after eating pre-packaged Meals-Ready-to-Eat for the first six weeks of their deployment. Fortunately for them, that has all changed.
After relocating to their new patrol base, 3rd Recon requested field mess Marines be attached to the battalion. The request was fulfilled, but the battalion received more than it expected, fostering a positive atmosphere ever since.
“The field mess was established in early July and instantly boosted the morale of the Marines by providing a wide variety of hot meals and (refrigerated) water to cool them off,” said 2nd Lt. Christopher M. Flood, a Ridgefield, Conn., native and the battalion logistics officer for 3rd Recon. “Once the field mess was established aboard Patrol Base Alcatraz, the morale of 3rd Recon Battalion skyrocketed.”
Sergeants Tony Serrato, a Bayard, Neb., native, and Leon Anderson, a Newark, N.J., native, both food service specialists attached to 3rd Recon Battalion, took over mess hall responsibilities in September when the initial Marines who organized the mess hall site completed their deployment and returned to the United States. Serrato and Anderson now prep, serve and cleanup after approximately 250 service members daily with the help of only two junior Marines.
Flood said the field mess Marines provide hot food two times daily to all the 3rd Recon Marines located on the patrol base. They also open on occasions when Marines return from a patrol or from performing duties off the patrol base late in the evening or early in the morning.
These “cooks on call” start their day before the sun rises and wrap it up after the sun goes down. They not only prepare meals for the Marines located on PB Alcatraz, but also for the recon Marines located at other bases in the area. Depending on the logistical capabilities of the battalion each day, the field mess Marines prepare hot food to send to the smaller patrol bases so Marines there do not have to eat MREs for every meal.
Serving an average 250 Marines and sailors may not seem like a lot of people, but it can get overwhelming when there are only two field mess Marines who are certified cooks and the two messmen, who assist Serrato and Anderson.
The battalion is constantly engaged in counterinsurgency operations, and the personnel attached to Recon are always coming and going. It is hard to know exactly how many people they need to cook for at a specific setting. Anderson said they have an idea, but, for instance, Bravo Company came back from a mission a day early.
“We didn’t know they were coming back, but they are going to have to eat,” he explained.
Anderson added he and Serrato monitor the food supplies to make sure they are not running low, and in cases where the number of people eating is more than what is expected, they can go into the kitchen and cook more food if needed.
Though at times cooking for so many people can get busy, Serrato and Anderson both said they try to make each meal special for the Marines, especially holiday meals or special occasions. These Marines shifted into high gear recently and prepared a Marine Corps Birthday meal for recon’s two other patrol bases on top of the two standard meals served at Patrol Base Alcatraz.
Serrato said the Marines and sailors enjoyed the birthday meal, which consisted of steak and crab legs, but were not expecting what they were offered for dessert.
“They were surprised when we ordered ice cream and got it in,” said Anderson, a 2002 graduate of Hillside High School.
“Oh yeah, they loved that; it was like gold to them,” added Serrato, a 2007 graduate of Morrill High School.
Ice cream was a rare, simple pleasure these Marines were able to provide, but Flood said Serrato and Anderson are providing the Marines and sailors of 3rd Recon Battalion with a wide variety of meals throughout their deployment, which significantly boosts morale.
Anderson said ordering, preparing and serving a wide variety of food is just him doing his job. He and Serrato choose what to order, but never serve what comes in each box as a whole. They mix and match the meals to give the Marines a variety. The Marines with 3rd Recon never know what to expect when they come to the mess hall.
They have the opportunity to be creative with the choice of foods they can order. Each day Anderson collaborates with Serrato on what they will cook for the two meals they serve.
Anderson said, “This is how it works,” as he looked at Serrato and asked him, “What do you want for breakfast?” Serrato looked back at his partner laughing and said, “Whatever happens ... you have to be creative.”
“If you just eat what comes in the boxes, … it is like the Ground Hog Day effect,” added Anderson.
Flood said Serrato and Anderson are constantly striving to create new meals and adding new varieties to the field mess. Flood and the Marines of 3rd Recon appreciate the selections the field mess offers, but there are some foods they make that are choice favorites.
“The best meal the battalion has received has been their grilled steaks, which they spend hours preparing,” said Flood.
The steaks are prepackaged for shipping, but are not completely cooked like some military “heat-and-eat” meals, according to Serrato. The field mess Marines fire up a barbeque pit behind the mess hall and grill each steak moments before the doors open for dinner so the Marines can have fresh cooked steaks, polish sausages, and a variety of other meats.
Steaks, spaghetti, chicken alfredo, and chicken teriyaki are just a few of the meals the field mess Marines provide to maintain good morale in the unit. Anderson said he likes to see his fellow Marines satisfied, but it isn’t about the smiles and thanks he might receive; it is about the challenge of following up and making something better.
“During an enlistment, people know what they did and what impact they had,” said Anderson. “I would like to see what happens after we leave, what the next people do to go even higher.”
Anderson said the Marines before him set the example, and he sees it as a challenge to raise the bar. Anderson and Serrato have done just that, and while they may never get to see what happens after they leave, they can leave knowing they made a difference in the morale of the Marines and sailors they served and created a challenge for the Marines who will replace them.
Editor’s Note: Third Reconnaissance Battalion is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8 in 2nd 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 Forces 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.
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This work, Mess hall Marines maintain 3rd Recon morale, by SSgt Earnest J. Barnes, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.