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Innovative Cooks Avoid Inspection

By Steve Karoly

This story comes with one of those "Don’t do this at home" warnings. It shows just how crafty sailors can get and just how far they’ll go to avoid the captain’s Saturday inspection.

Inspections have been a part of military life since the founding of this country. Sailors have shirked inspection since John Paul Jones captained the USS Bonhomme Richard into battle against the HMS Serapis.

But there’s one group of cooks from the USS Polaris (AF 11) who beat the odds and won the "inspection war."

Each Saturday morning, the Commissary Division on the Polaris served baked beans, sliced bacon, dry cereal and toast so they could quickly clean the galley for the captain’s weekly material inspection.

As soon as he inspected the ship’s crew in their dress uniforms, the captain went from zone to zone with white gloves and a flashlight. In tow were a number of officers and the most important member of his party: the yeoman, who scribed everything the captain spoke.

Their mission: to assess the "material readiness" of the World War II era refrigerated stores ship. The captain looked for a clean ship. There was no room for dust under the worktables or greasy build up in the ovens. The steamtable, with thirty feet of polished brass pipes, had to be spotless. The overheard, its massive trunks of electrical wires running fore and aft, had to be clean and freshly painted. Nothing escaped the eye of the captain.

Except on the Polaris, according to retired Chief Commissaryman Tom Selland, who served on the ship from 1952 to 1956. The cooks devised a way to encourage the captain to breeze through the galley.

Just before the captain and his entourage entered the galley, one cook would turn the griddle on high heat and toss a little black pepper on its surface. The captain’s eyes would soon tear up and burn. The captain never remained in the galley for long and the cooks always passed inspection.

And I’m sure the crew was grateful as well. For as soon as inspection ended, the officer of the deck passed liberty call over the ship’s announcing system.

"I don’t think he ever figured it out," said Selland. But before you get the idea that the captain on the Polaris was stupid, Selland said the cooks ran quite a risk.

"I don’t think he would’ve acted too kindly had he found out about our little trick. He would’ve been very angry because the cooks were shirking his inspection."

September 1999

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