May 15, 2013 --
TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Deep in the Mojave Desert, 14 food service Marines with Combat Logistics Regiment 17 were working through the night, preparing thousands of meals for the wave of hungry troops that were about to swarm their small makeshift dining hall.
These Marines, along with approximately 4,500 others with 1st Marine Division and 1st Marine Logistics Group, were participating in Desert Scimitar, one of the largest exercises held at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.
For the first time in approximately a decade, the division deployed to the field as a complete headquarters element to practice offensive and defensive operations against a simulated enemy.
Undermanned and with few resources, the food service Marines were able to feed 2,400 mouths a day, often working through the night to ensure all Marines and sailors had the fuel to keep them in the fight.
“Our job out there was so important because everyone was in such a harsh environment and under so much stress that the fact that we are able to boost the morale with a hot meal and cold drink pushed us to work harder,” said Staff Sgt. Manuel Ramos, a food service specialist with Food Service Company, CLR-17, 1st MLG, and a native of Clearwater, Fla. “That is what we are here for. We are here to make sure every Marine gets their meal so they have the fuel and energy to keep going.”
From the moment the exercise began, the Marines spent several hours setting up everything from the field kitchen to tents, decking, camouflage netting, storage units, and refrigeration systems.
Attention to detail was essential to mission accomplishment. A heavy significance was placed on the cleanliness and thoroughness of food preparation, erecting of field sites and proper conduct throughout the training exercise.
“Sanitation was very big,” added Ramos. “You have to ensure your sanitation is to the point because you don’t want to get anyone sick out there. To stop an operation because of a foodborne illness is the worst thing you could do as a food specialist.”
As the operational side of the exercise progressed, there was an obvious increase in the level of cohesion amongst the food service Marines.
“The first couple of days were a little rough,” said Ramos. “But on the third day it was like clockwork. They were on it and my instructions were minimum. It was like second nature to them.”
Throughout the two-week exercise, they conducted extensive training on function checks, equipment, sanitation and proper setup. For several Marines, it was their first time operating in the field environment.
“Everything was completely different out there,” said Lance Cpl. Alicia Woolard, a food service specialist with Food Service Co., CLR-17, 1st MLG, and a native of Prescott, Ariz. “You take the smaller things you have at home for granted. Everything is fast paced and harder to do. You are out of your element and you don’t have the convenience of home, but I think it was a really good learning experience.”
Several other participants said they were impressed with the proficiency of the food service Marines because they seemed to have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Even more impressed was the food service staff.
“After seeing these Marines out in the field, I would absolutely trust each and every one of them in a combat situation,” said Ramos. “As far as them taking care of their job and the knowledge they gained with this experience, I absolutely would trust them to go out and handle their business. I was proud of all they did.”