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HADITHA DAM, Iraq - Lance Cpl. Martell O. Rogers, St. Louis native and assistant mess chief for 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, prepares chicken for a stir fry meal here Sept. 30. Rogers and other cooks in the battalion prepare meals for more than 1,400 people here daily.

Photo by Cpl. Adam C. Schnell

3/1 cooks keep Marines happy

18 Oct 2005 | Cpl. Adam C. Schnell

Most people get stressed out when they have to prepare a Thanksgiving Day meal and the whole family is coming. Now imagine if every day was like Thanksgiving and your family consisted of more than 1,400 people. That is how the cooks of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment feel every day while deployed to Iraq. With only three cooks and a few assistants, they prepare an average of 1,600 pounds of food and stock countless bottles of water, drinks, and other snacks to keep the Marines and other coalition members aboard their base here nourished. “It nice because all the food that comes to us already split into complete meals,” said Cpl. Ryan L. Pennington, a Phoenix native and field mess chief for the battalion. “They come to us from Al Asad and we just open the boxes and prepare the food.” Cooks, like Pennington, work long hours in order to feed so many people everyday. The biggest challenge for them is making sure the food is ready at the right time. “We work 16-hour days to make sure the chow is ready for the Marines at the right time,” said 21-year-old Pennington. “If we meet the timeline, then we have done our job.” Cooking food isn’t the only responsibly of field mess men like Pennington, however. They also take on the task of ordering food, keeping inventory and making sure all their work areas are sanitary. To be prepared to handle feeding the battalion everyday in Iraq, the mess men went through training while in California, setting up mess tents and feeding the Marines as they participated in pre-deployment training. When not cooking though, they also participated in the training evolutions. “It’s great because we get the best of both worlds,” said Lance Cpl. Martell O. Rogers, St. Louis native and assistant mess chief. “We get to train with the grunts and we get to cook.” Enlisting in the Marine Corps to become a cook is something few even think about. But for people like Pennington and Rogers, it was a great opportunity for them. “I knew that after the Marine Corps, I would have a great chance to get a good job doing something I like,” commented Pennington, a 2003 Greenway High School graduate. “I like to think of cooking as an art,” added Rogers. “It’s not just throwing a meal together.” Getting the meals pre-packaged and ready with little preparation can make them bland and tasteless at times. To combat this, the cooks use ingredients and spices they have on hand to make the food tastier or look more appealing for the Marines. “One ingredient can make all the difference in a good tasting meal and one that isn’t,” said Rogers, a 2003 Normandy Senior High School graduate. “For instance, I like to add cinnamon and butter to the pancake batter. It makes them have a more home-cooked taste.” Despite the hard work and long hours, being a field mess man has its rewards. Getting to see the whole battalion every day and getting compliments on their food is why many mess men enjoy the job. “It is always a great feeling when someone comes up to you after a meal and tells you how good the food was,” commented Pennington. “It really makes the job a lot better when get thanks for just doing you job.”