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COMMAND OUTPOST NORSEMAN, RUTBAH, Iraq ? Lance Cpl. Rene M. Cruzhernandez, a food service specialist with Task Force Tarawa, empties a bag of shrimp scampi into a heated serving pan.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Stephen L. Traynham

Marines enjoy fine dining in the desert

2 May 2007 | Staff Sgt. Stephen L. Traynham

For many military members working outside of the major bases in Iraq, chow consists of meals ready to eat and maybe one hot meal a day. But for the Marines and Sailors working here, chow in the desert resembles the menu of a fine restaurant.

Staff Sgt. Francisco A. Santiago, mess chief and logistics chief for Task Force Tarawa, and his Marines prepare two hot meals a day for more than 750 members of the task force.

“We support all Task Force Tarawa elements with food service,” said Santiago, a 28-year-old, Camuy, Puerto Rico, native.

On some of the major military bases, the job of a mess Marine is more curtailed toward quality assurance and control, said Santiago.

“Being out here we do all the cooking,” said Cpl. Algie D. Facen-Vaughn, assistant mess chief with TFT. “In the rear, we have contractors that do the cooking. We just check up behind them to make sure the food is good to go for the Marines.”

“Out here, we are field mess,” said Lance Cpl. Rene M. Cruzhernandez, food service specialist with TFT.

Keeping in tradition with all Marines serving in the field, the ability to adapt to their surroundings played a major role in completing their mission.

“When we got out here, all of the equipment in the kitchen was Army specific,” said Santiago. “We had to make it work, and that was a challenge at first. Once we incorporated it with our gear, we were cooking bacon.”

Bacon isn’t the only thing cooking nowadays at the COP.

“We make our own menus here,” said Facen-Vaughn, a 25 year-old, Washington, D.C., native. “We are on a 15 day cycle, so on day 16 they will get the same meal they had on day one.”

Though the menu may seem short with only 15 different breakfast and dinner meals, the spread they put out makes up for it.

“We make chicken parmesan, shrimp scampi, chicken alfredo, and even fried chicken,” said Cruzhernandez, a 21 year-old, Winston- Salem, N.C., native. “We even provide them with stuff like salad and ice cream, stuff that is hard to come by in the desert.”

“Once a week we give them steak and lobster,” added Santiago. “It helps boost morale.”

According to the Marines here, the chow supersedes their expectations of the food they would receive while in the field.

“The spaghetti is awesome, but I prefer the shrimp scampi and the pot roast,” said Master Sgt. Andreas J. Starling, operations chief for TFT. “I’m used to getting tray rats and MREs. That’s what the companies operating in the city wanted, until we introduced them to our field mess.”

The units within the city receive the same chow as the Marines and Sailors at the COP, explained Santiago.

“We make sure the Marines at the [forward operating bases] eat as well as we do,” said Facen-Vaughn.

“There’s not a whole lot to look forward to out here,” said Santiago. “When the Marines come from out the wire or come back from a patrol, they can expect a good hot meal. That’s the least we can do.”

Task Force Tarawa is part of Regimental Combat Team 2, a Marine Corps command responsible for more than 30,000 square miles and 5,500 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province.