USS AUSTIN (LPD 4) - (NENS) -- Every day of the year there are Navy Sailors on the job preparing healthy meals for their shipmates.
These Sailors are called Mess Management Specialists (MS). The MS's on board USS Austin, an amphibious landing dock ship, are currently on a six-month Mediterranean deployment. They prepare meals for a crew of 390 Sailors and 425 embarked Marines.
A typical dinner could include 300 pounds of fish, 900 pounds of chicken, 500 pounds of potatoes, 60 gallons of soup, a wide variety of mixed vegetables, and that does not include all the fixings.
The general feeling of MS's on board are represented by MS3 Joe Durham, from Americus, Georgia, a recent graduate from the Navy's Culinary Arts School, "I enjoy cooking, and take pride in every dish I serve. It is my responsibility to cook good meals to keep the crew well and fit."
Austin's galley is only 1500 square feet but will produce more than 600,000 meals in the next six months. The crew will also drink 16,400 gallons of milk and eat more than 150,000 doughnuts.
"It is only hard until you realize the importance of it," said MSSR Steven Francisci, a night baker from Queens, N.Y.
Cooking for the crew takes dedication and specialized training. This dedication is seen through their daily work hours.
Their day begins early in the morning as the rest of the crew sleeps or stands watch. The cooks are up at 4:30 a.m. to start preparing breakfast. When reveille sounds at six a.m. they are ready with eggs, pancakes, bacon and freshly-made doughnuts for the hungry crew.
Following breakfast it is non-stop. Lunch needs preparing which includes a salad bar and a meal consisting of two main courses. From lunch to dinner the marathon continues. After lunch they have three and a half hours to clean the kitchen and prepare dinner.
After the three meals, the Food Service Bulk Storeroom Custodian, known as the "Jack of the Dust", MS3 Craig Holder, of West Lafayette, Ohio, issues the provisions for the next day's meals. The ship carries $950,000 of food items on board. Ranging from your basic items to catfish fillets and ravioli.
With this completed, the day is not done. The night bakers, MSSR Rancisci and MS3 Martin Cisneros, from Pinson, Ala., begin their shift and start baking the next day's bread, pastries and desserts.
Meanwhile in the galley, two and a half hours are needed to clean before Midrats, the day's fourth meal prepared for late-night watch standers.
"Feeding our Sailors and Marines plenty of good quality food is probably the single most important thing we do with regard to quality of life," said Austin's Commanding Officer CDR William D. Valentine Jr., from Virginia Beach, Va. "I try to be on the mess decks for every meal, helping to serve and ensuring that food preparation and presentation are up to Austin standards."
The job of the Mess Management Specialist is not in the lime light but is one of the most important factors that contribute to operational readiness and the morale of a ship.
To date, the MS's on Austin have prepared more than 112,000 meals. The enormity of the task may appear overwhelming to most, but it is all in a day's work for the MS's of Austin.
NAVEUR NEWS SERVICE (96-35), August 22, 1996.
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