CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – The Marines worked quickly, moving between tents and carrying trays of food as the lunch hour approached. They were preparing a meal in the field for more than 250 Marines. More importantly, they were defending their title as best field mess in the Marine Corps.
Last year, Marines with Food Service Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 17, 1st Marine Logistics Group, earned the 2013 Major General W.P.T. Hill Memorial Award for Best Field Mess. On Feb. 26, 2014, aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., a team selected by the National Restaurant Association judged the field mess aboard to determine if the servicemembers would continue their reign as champions.
The award was established to improve food service operations and recognize the best field and garrison messes the Marine Corps has to offer. The field mess is evaluated for its, organization, security, sanitation, food preparation and the quality and taste of the served food, among many other categories.
Combat Logistics Regiment 17 was competing against the best selected food service units across the Marine Corps in the field mess category of the awards. It was important that the Marines exceled in every category of the evaluation.
“The scope of the competition is big and it’s very important. It allows us to showcase what we can do and provides the opportunity for us to train,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Louie G. Juarez, commander, Food Service Co., CLR-17. “We’re graded on every aspect of food service from fiscal accountability to food preparation methods. It’s a pretty broad area.”
The Marines began building the field mess six-days before, with the help of motor transportation Marines, heavy equipment operators, combat engineers, corpsmen and other supporting servicemembers from CLR-17. Brigadier Gen. Vincent A. Coglianese, commanding general, 1st MLG, came out the day prior to the competition to emphasize its importance.
“This is more than a competition. It goes beyond that; it’s a mindset,” said Coglianese. “I want you to win, but more importantly, I want you to get that expeditionary mindset.”
Coglianese went on to explain that a field mess is essential to the success of expeditionary operations, and the food service specialists will face and overcome the same challenges that forward deployed servicemembers may encounter.
“The competition is also a training exercise for us,” said Gunnery Sgt. David M. Anderson, field mess chief, Food Service Co., CLR-17. “Today we incorporated a noncommissioned officer [lecture] at the site and handed out some hot chow to a training site with other Marines,” added the 35-year-old native of Roanoke, Va.
Anderson also said they met the essential mission tasks, which included embarking their gear, setting up their site and retrograding after the competition was over.
At the heart of the field mess is the Expeditionary Field Kitchen, a trailer that allows food service specialists to cook and prepare food for up to 500 Marines. It is easy to set-up and transportable enough to allow the Marines to support troops operating on the front lines.
Many Marines were unfamiliar with the EFK, including food service specialists from 6th Communications Battalion, Force Headquarters Group, U.S. Marine Forces Reserve, who joined CLR-17 during the competition.
“We came here to assist and learn as much as possible,” said Sgt. Timothy J. Graveline, food service specialist, 6th Comm. Bn. “Reserve side, we don’t have the same amenities that active duty has. This is a learning tool for us. For example, some of my Marines have never seen an Expeditionary Field Kitchen before, so this is new to them and they want to learn,” added the 27-year-old native of Wappinger Falls, N.Y.
Graveline added that he and Marines from his unit benefited from the competition and planned on bringing what they practiced and learned back to New York.
“I think the Marines did wonderful,” said Juarez, 44, and native of Parlier, Calif. “I think all the hard work they put into this will definitely pay off in the long run. The training they got out of this is tremendous. They’re going to fully appreciate that once they realize how much they gained from the competition.”
When lunch was ready, a long line of Marines stretched out across the camp. The days of preparation led to the final moment where they would serve the meticulously prepared meal and the judges would make their final rating.
The awards are slated to be presented to representatives of each winning unit in May.