ABOARD THE USS TARAWA (LHA-1) -- The Marines and Sailors of the USS Tarawa lay silent. The Fighting 13th’s defenders of the red, white and blue rest in their coffin-like racks and dream the early morning away. Meanwhile, a special group of young warriors tiptoe through the darkness of the berthing areas, prepared to tackle an upcoming mission. Their destination: the USS Tarawa mess deck.
“It takes a lot of planning and hard work to feed the Marines and Sailors aboard the USS Tarawa,” said Staff Sgt. Julios Barker, chief cook, command element, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “It’s our goal to keep the Marines and Sailors happy and have them return for each meal.”
Chow starts when the Boatsman’s whistle blows the call to chow. The minute-long whistle blast alerts personnel to stop work and eat. Like a herd of cattle, the array of green- and blue-colored uniforms steers through the main line and on to the salad bar. The mess deck seats approximately 600 Marines and Sailors.
The dining area offers a relaxed atmosphere, boasting televisions sets in each corner, designed to give the grazing herd a taste of the outside world - miles away from their floating feast.
“This chow hall has it all,” said Sgt. Jose Cerca Jr., motor transport mechanic. “There’s great food, and with the ship so close to port, it makes the restocking easy. There is always a different assortment of food and plenty of it.”
The professionalism exhibited by the different services’ mess personnel is clear as day. The blue/green team works hard to produce a positive, rewarding product. Through the night the commitment to quality continues, as the mess hall provides a midnight rations program to serve meals for those who work the night away.
“The green and blue team works hand in hand at this facility,” said Veronica Araujo, Division V-4, air department. This team works well together, respect is always present and both teams acknowledge this ‘24-7’. I am impressed with the Marines on how they work, they give so much of themselves.”
The team includes more than 80 personnel assigned to mess duty. However, the responsibility of each Marine and Sailor can vary.
“My most important mission is to feed the Marines and Sailors aboard the ship,” said Petty Office 1st class, Rommel Reyes, Leading Petty Officer, USS Tarawa. “It’s important to me to make each Marine and Sailor content with his or her meal.”
Making mission requires tons of food. For Reyes, that amount translates to more than 1,900 pounds per day to feed the (roughly) 1,600 personnel aboard. The number will nearly double for the upcoming deployment.
So, as the next sunset closes in on the Tarawa crew, rest assured, these heroes have embarked on a their special mission. The eggs will be boiling; the bread ready for toasting and the sweet aroma of freshly brewed coffee awaits another crop of hungry Marines and Sailors.