CAMP KINSER,OKINAWA, Japan -- As service members step into the Camp Kinser mess hall, the smell of hot food, the sight of people eating and the sound of kitchen utensils clanging against hot metal greet them. To the patrons, this is dinnertime, to Marines assigned to Food Service Company, Headquarters Regiment, 3rd MLG, this is the busiest part of their workday.
Often overshadowed by the product they create, food service specialists serve as an essential component to the fleet Marine forces.
"Our [mess hall operates] seven days a week and holidays," said Capt. Lydia Fakes, company commander, Food Service Co. "Marines show up to the mess hall; they’re there to eat and get out, but there’s a lot of talent that goes into making specific meals nutritious."
At the Marine Corps Food Service School Fort Lee, Virginia, Marines are not only trained to cook and prepare food, they are also taught that safety and food quality are the most important parts of their job.
"Sanitation is the number one priority for food service, so there are requirements to ensure that our Marines are properly sanitized before they start cooking anything," said Fakes. "Hand washing is incredibly important. Marines wash their hands before, during and after food is made." Fakes added that food is not served until it is temperature-tested to ensure it is thoroughly cooked and safe to eat.
Marines also maintain sanitation protocols in field mess facilities. When Marines are deployed or on exercises, field mess deploys with them, providing them with the nutritional fuel needed to complete their mission.
"We typically have Marines out supporting an exercise every month," Fakes said.
According to Fakes, field mess Marines are capable of feeding up to 700 Marines and Sailors per meal. Heating tray systems are also available in Humvees that give the Marines the ability to prepare food for service members while in the back of moving vehicles.
Marines on field mess duty are selected by rank, time in the fleet and occupational readiness.
"We choose staff noncommissioned officers to deploy with large detachments of food service specialists in field environments and sergeants to deploy with smaller detachments," Fakes said.
She said experience plays a large role in how junior Marines are selected for detachments, with Marines ideally serving one year in the mess hall and one year in field mess. When deployed, food service specialists are working long shifts every day, with field mess halls often operating from 3 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Cpl. Christina Gilman, a food service specialist with Food Service Co., said even though they work hard, food service specialists enjoy what they do and know they are making an impact.
"When Marines have been working hard all day or out in the field, being able to sit down and unwind can really help their morale," she said. "I used to have Marines come up to me while I was serving them and they’d tell me how I’d make their day better."
Lance Cpl. Daniel Divirgilio, a machine gunner with Tactical Readiness and Training Platoon, HQ Reg., 3rd MLG, said the work food service specialists do has made an impact on him.
"While I was deployed in Syria with [3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment], hot chow was provided daily by the Marines working in field mess," he said. "It was definitely a morale booster."
The food service specialists’ mission is vital to fueling the fight, said Fakes. They provide the Marines of 3rd MLG and the rest of the Marine Corps with some of the key ingredients needed to allow their bodies to function at a high level in order to stay ready for anything.