HADITHA DAM, Iraq --
At the mere mention of a few V.I.P.s on deck for the 1st Marine Logistics Group commanding general’s Valentine’s Day visit, almost everything here seems to be flipped upside down to prepare for their arrival. Bedlam erupts, everything is hastily straightened out and all work is halted as an expectant feeling fills the air awaiting their arrival.
The air here was also filled with the smells of a morning meal cooking, as food service Marines continued working.
These Marines put out their best every day, explained Sgt. James S. Murphy, one of the chief cooks of Haditha Dam’s food service center for Combat Logistics Regiment 27, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) attached to 1st MLG.
The Marines do whatever it takes to prepare the best meal for anyone that comes to the dam, despite their limited conditions.
The food service facility is little more than two large green boxes, crammed with as much cooking equipment as possible. Stoves and storage spaces fill the interior of one and crates of food line behind the other, awaiting their chance to be served to the people at the dam.
Murphy works with eight other Marines at the “mess hall” on top of Haditha Dam. Overlooking the Euphrates River, it seems to be a strange place for a food supply to be located, but the Marines have made it work, despite the conditions.
The facilities were originally set up and capable of serving two meals to 800 people a day, explained Sgt. Joseph M. Tripp, the additional chief cook for the cooking team from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Using a method they describe as “progressive cooking,” his Marines manage to provide more than 1,700 people with three meals a day.
“We cook enough for the first wave of people we have coming through,” explained Cpl. James D. McGarr, assistant chief cook at the dam. “As they come through, we start making room to cook the food for the next wave,” said McGarr, from Marietta, Ga. They do this with less than 10 people, working in two shifts.
On top of this work, they also find a way to give the service members that come to their set-up a little taste of home-style leftovers.
“For example, we’ll get a bunch of turkey cutlet. And what can you do with all that turkey?” questioned McGarr about the bland menu item. The solution: cut it up and prepare it in turkey pot pies for the troops.
This variety can help the service members overcome their angst at the repetitive selection of most chow halls, which traps them in a routine where they know what to expect. This is not the case high above the dam.
“When you’re here six or twelve months eating the same thing over and over, it gets pretty boring and monotonous,” said Murphy, from Warren, Mass.
Despite their predicament, they have managed to serve the entire armed forces recipe card at their station, and prepare all the fancy holiday feasts, explained Tripp, from Marysville, Ohio. All of this, while remaining on top of the mighty Haditha Dam.
“It’s a pretty amazing story,” said Brig. Gen. Robert R. Ruark, commanding general, 1st Marine Logistics Group.
“It’s good to be acknowledged,” said Murphy about the general’s visit. Nearing the end of their deployment, the hard working group is ready to head home to Camp Lejeune, hoping to have trained their replacements to achieve their massive operational effectiveness.