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Navy Cook Spices Up Duty

By Lt. Leslie Hull-Ryde, 
CARAT Public Affairs

ABOARD USS GERMATNTOWN (NWS) -- After being on a ship in the Western Pacific for a month or two, some Sailors may want to add some spice to their chow.

With MS2 Sutee Vatanathum on board, the crew of USS Germantown (LSD 42), now in Thailand supporting CARAT, thought they might have the chance to try some of the local flavor while never leaving the ship.

But the commodore leading the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise in Southeast Asia decided to take the Thai born Reservist out of the kitchen and put him in the wardroom.

"MS2 Vatanathum is more than just an Thai speaker. He speaks Thai and knows the jargon used by the U.S. Navy," says Capt. Joseph Natale, commodore of the CARAT Task Group. "He represents the critical skills, abilities, and enthusiastic service that the U.S. Navy Reservists bring to the fleet."

Instead of sharing recipes from his own restaurant in Fresno, Calif., with other cooks in the galley, this mess specialist is serving up conversations between the Thai and American participants in CARAT.

During his two-week active duty training in Sattahip, near Pattaya, Vatanathum translates for the commodore and admiral in charge of CARAT's five ships and one submarine what they're Thai counterparts are saying.

"I can't believe as a mess specialist I have a chance to meet so many high ranking U.S. officers and Royal Thai Navy officers," he says.

The leaders of the exercise are thankful this Reservist joined their team this summer.

"In any bilateral exercise communications is the key to success, but more importantly it is also the key to safety. Miscommunications on procedures when you are conducting live fire events can be disastrous," says Natale.

"I didn't know I was important," Vatanathum says. "I am just doing my job."

This restaurateur says he's always dreamed of being in the Navy since he was a little boy. Living near Bangkok, he didn't think it would come true. But in 1981, almost 10 years after he moved to the States, he enlisted in the Navy as a Reservist.

Now, more than a decade later, he can't believe he's living his dream in the country where he grew up. "This is a once in a lifetime experience. It's a dream come true," Vatanathum says. "I love wearing my uniform and coming home to show my parents."

He recommends the Navy to younger folks just starting their careers.

"The Navy gives you a good life. If you are successful in the Navy, it's easy to be successful in the real world."

Navy News Wire story NWS18jul-9, dated July 18, 2000.

Personal note: MS2 Vatanathum served with me in Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 17 in the early 1990s.

August 2000

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