Messhall Cooks: 7th Marines' Silent Warriors

By Cpl. C.J. Young
Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center
29 Palms, California

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MARINE CORPS AIR-GROUND COMBAT CENTER, Twentynine Palms, Calif. (Jan. 23) -- Within the ranks of the Marine Corps there are many jobs, each one important and necessary in accomplishing the Marine Corps mission -- making Marines and winning battles.

Winning battles means constant improvement on tactics, techniques and weapons. As the Corps does away with one weapons system it is replaced with another one. Throughout change, however, the Corps' cooks have remained the silent warriors who keep the front lines fighting by keeping their moral and physical strength high through good hot chow.

Among the Corps' dedicated cooks are those of the 7th Marines. They are often taken for granted by other Marines, who only see them while they're going through the line at breakfast, lunch or dinner, giving the perception the cooks have an easy day. What they don't see, however, is just how long a cook's day can be, the training schedule they keep or the arduous working conditions they often endure.

"We feed 4200 Marines daily between 1st Tank Bn. and 3/11's messhalls," said Master Sgt. Dan J. Egesdahl, 7th Marines regimental food technician. "We have 93 cooks between the two messhalls. They alternate schedules using a two-watch system. The first watch goes from 0300-0900 followed by several hours of training, to include anything from conducting patrols to using and maintaining field mess gear. The second watch goes from 7 a.m to 8 or 9 p.m., with the watches alternating weekends off."

Preparing food for so many hungry Marines is a daunting task. If they're not enduring 130 degree Fahrenheit temperatures in the kitchen of the messhalls, they're warding off the cold winds of the field during training exercises. Wherever you find infantry and fighting Marines, you'll find the dedicated cooks.

"Cooks don't get the glory the line units get," Egesdahl said. "They're everywhere the line units are but you never hear about them. They're always up earlier than the Marines they have to feed and they don't rest until the last Marine has been fed."

In the kitchens of the messhall, where steam hisses at every turn and the loud din of crashing pots and pans makes the ears numb, cooks frantically rush from place to place. The business of the messhall is everyone's business; and each Marine must know everyone's job so they can fill in where they're needed. Despite the lack of glory and rigorous schedule, the cooks say they enjoy it.

"I enjoy being able to attend culinary schools and educate myself on cooking," said Pfc. Kress Tarleton, a 3rd Bn., 7th Marines cook who works at the 1st Tank Bn. messhall. "It's nice to get compliments from Marines who say how good the food is. As far as how much training we do, I don't mind it. It's what being in a grunt unit is all about."

Motivation and morale are also important to the cooks and realization of how important their job is to the Corps accomplishing its mission keeps many of them going.

"If Marines don't eat, they have no energy and can't take the fight to the enemy,' said Lance Cpl. Robert Aragon, a cook from 1st Bn, 7th Marines. "A lot of headquarters and service companies are under-appreciated in the importance of their jobs, but we know they couldn't fight without us."

As proven in Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Bosnia, cooks often find themselves serving up more than food in combat. Ultimately there are going to be shortages of personnel in a combat zone, according to Egesdahl, and in addition to guarding compounds while the infantry is assigned someplace else, the cooks are called upon to conduct patrols into hostile territory.

"These cooks all qualify with the different weapons systems and know how to deploy them in combat," Egesdahl said. "I think people sometimes forget these Marines come from grunt units. If they're needed they can serve in combat roles."

Finding time to unwind from their training and work schedules is tricky to say the least, but each cook seems to have his own method. In addition, they are not unlike reconnaissance units in that they spend so much time together -- they form their own kind of "family."

"I go home and relax and try to rest before I have to go back in," Aragon said.

"Cooks are a close-knit family because we all spend so much time together at work," Orr said. "We all more or less know each other's families and when schedules permit we try to have cook's family parties ... the hardest thing in planning family parties is getting someone to cook."

Whether they're in the field keeping the infantry's spirits high and taking the fight to the enemy or creating visually-appealing masterpieces in the Center's messhalls, cooks train for their roles in combat by performing their duties on the job every day. The cooks have, and always will be, an asset to the Corps, although most Marines don't know just what an asset they are ... that is, until chow time.

Commercial: (703) 614-1492/4/5 DSN: 224-1492/4/5 FAX: (703) 697-5362

Date: 2/3/97 Release #: Byline: Cpl. C.J. Young -USMC-

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Last update: February 3, 1997 at 1700