1st FSSG to raise standards of civilian-run mess halls in Iraq

26 Mar 2004 | Sgt. Matt Epright 1st Marine Logistics Group

Higher standards for sanitation, security and supervision of the civilian-contracted mess halls in Iraq fill the agenda as the Marine Corps' 1st Force Service Support Group moves in to take over from the Army.

Though the mess halls here have been continuously and successfully feeding the flood of tens of thousands of troops daily to the Army's liking, the Marines plan to do business a little different.

When the 1st FSSG's food service officer, Chief Warrant Officer-3 Lester J. Brown, arrived here he was not satisfied with how things were being run.

"What we did not see was the security and the supervision of the workers," 37-year-old Brown said. He pointed out that the food service soldiers were managing recreation tents and phone centers, instead of working in the mess hall.

Prior to the 1st FSSG's arrival, civilians working for Eurest Support Services - a contract services organization based in Cypress - operated the Taqaddum mess hall and its off-camp satellite mess halls under supervision from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

The 1st FSSG officially takes the mess halls' helm March 29, 2004, though they will not actually cook or serve the food themselves. Instead, Brown's team of more than 20 Marine cooks will be responsible for insuring that higher standards of sanitation and safety are adhered to as well as supervising the civilian workers.

"We've been here now for the two-week change over, and we've noticed a lot of sanitation issues," Brown said.

One of the specific problems that Brown spoke of was trash dumpsters being placed too close to the dining facility and trash bags not being tied closed. This was causing a major problem with birds picking through the trash, he said.

"We have a much higher standard as far as looking out for the troops and their sanitation, health and welfare. There will be someone in here at all times, watching the operation to see what's going on," said Brown.

The ESS employees, who hail from numerous countries throughout Asia and the Middle East, are responsible for cooking and serving 20,000 to 30,000 meals per day for the main mess hall and its satellites.

ESS is also responsible for 14 other dining facilities throughout Iraq. This constitutes about 30 percent of the dining facilities in country that serve American service members. Different contractors, including Kellogg, Brown and Root, operate the others.

The constant supervision of civilian workers by Marines won't require any extra personnel. The 1st FSSG came with the necessary equipment and people to set up and run a field mess hall from scratch. The Marine cooks that would have been cooking and serving the food will make up Brown's team, he said.

There have been no reports of sickness stemming from sanitation issues and ESS will continue to operate the mess hall under a contract with the Marine Corps, said Chris Robinson, catering manager for ESS.

"We have about 140 staff ... and they do everything from washing to cooking. The Marines are here to monitor the contract. There will be occasions when we will require their assistance. But, the reason we're here is to relieve them of a lot of those duties," said Robinson.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge. There are a lot of changes that are needed," he said.

The 1st FSSG provides combat service support to I Marine Expeditionary Force, currently deployed to Iraq to conduct security and stability operations to help the country transition to becoming a democratically elected government.

Where the mess halls are concerned though, the 1st FSSG is only responsible for the Taqaddum facility and its off-camp satellites. The 1st Marine Division and 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing are responsible for the mess halls in their areas of operation.
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