The galley is the backbone of a working ship. U.S. Coast Guard culinary specialists are the unsung heroes of any cutter. They often work 12 hours a day, seven days a week to feed the crew.
In preparation for a long deployment to Antarctica supporting Operation Deep Freeze, leaders onboard Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star recognized exactly how important fresh, high quality, varied meals are for crew morale. They also considered the need for menu alternatives catering to dietary restrictions as a meaningful supporting factor for diversity and inclusion. They sought augmentation for the overburdened galley staff through the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s culinary assistance program.
Established in 1939, the Coast Guard Auxiliary was fashioned as the original Reserve force under legislative mandate to use civilians to promote safety on the high seas and the nation’s navigable waterways. Today, Auxiliarists continue to serve alongside active duty members in selfless volunteer support of the Coast Guard’s 11 missions.
Onboard Polar Star, three members of the Auxiliary from different parts of the country volunteered nearly 5 months of their time to help support the galley and contribute to the operational capacity of America’s sole heavy ice breaker.
Prior to deploying for Operation Deep Freeze, Polar Star planned an innovative partnership with Seattle Auxiliary Flotilla 130-02-04 that would ease the workload of the active duty culinary specialists, while engaging new candidates for the Auxiliary and active duty workforce. They engaged culinary students, alumni, and current Auxiliary members who were motivated and ready to volunteer for the arduous duty.
“Partnerships between active duty units, Auxiliary flotillas, and culinary schools will expand the Auxiliary culinary assistance program and allow for more direct operational support to units such as the Polar Star,” said Ensign Aidan Uvanni, a deck watch officer and one of the leads in the initiative.
Quickly, Polar Star found several members ready to take on galley duty.
Lisa Hickman, from Juneau, Alaska, is a district staff officer with the culinary assistance program at the 17th Coast Guard Auxiliary District and is a member of Flotilla 170-01-0. She currently works in the food service and hospitality industry.
Before working in the hospitality industry, Hickman was a police officer and spent 20 years in public service. Once she retired from that career, she wanted to continue to give back.
“Cooking just feeds my soul as it does other people,” said Hickman.
In 2019, she began attending Auxiliary meetings after a friend introduced her to the organization. The volunteer sector of the Coast Guard aligned with her love for cooking and willingness to volunteer. She quickly qualified in the culinary assistance program and began volunteering her time at Coast Guard Air Station Sitka and even went underway with Coast Guard Cutter Kukui (WLB 203), a buoy tender out of Sitka, Alaska.
Hickman learned about the once in a lifetime opportunity to be on Polar Star through social media. The director of Auxiliary was encouraging Auxiliarists to apply to help out in the galley and reached out to Hickman to see if she was interested.
Hickman had no doubt she wanted to assist Polar Star.
She went through several screening processes and worked with the galley staff for a few days to get familiar with the environment.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Hickman. “I hope Auxiliarists keep getting underway with Polar Star. It’s such an incredible feeling giving back to the active duty members.”
Similar to Hickman, Samantha Logue, member of Flotilla 08-05-02, in Springfield, Missouri and native of Madera, California, found her way to the Polar Star through her peers.
Logue is a licensed counselor. She has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and has been a member of the Auxiliary since 2019. In her flotilla, she works in marine safety Auxiliary public affairs.
While taking a leadership and development course, a member of the Auxiliary told her about the opportunity of getting underway with Polar Star. She was told that it is a way to interact and connect with active duty more.
For Logue, getting underway the Polar Star offered both her and her flotilla a chance to grow. She wanted to take the opportunity to bring home as much knowledge as she could since her flotilla has fewer opportunities than coastal flotillas to interact with active duty members.
After conducting more research, Logue reached out to Polar Star to begin the same screening process as Hickman. Because she was not originally part of the culinary assistance program, she had to go through the training necessary to come aboard Polar Star.
“My experience onboard Polar Star has been great,” said Logue. “In the Midwest, we do not get the opportunity to work with active duty or reservists as often. I’ve learned so much about how the Coast Guard operates and I learned more about damage control, which I hope to take back to my peers.”
For Miranda Henry, however, the opportunity to cook onboard the Polar Star came in a different manner.
Henry, a native of Ferndale, Wash., grew up in the Pacific Northwest and considers herself an outdoorsman and an adventurer. Prior to coming aboard Polar Star, she attended culinary school at Bellingham Technical College in Bellingham, Wash. and graduated in 2020.
While looking through a Facebook page where instructors post information, Henry came across a post for culinary students and alumni in the surrounding Seattle area who were looking for an adventure. The solicitation immediately caught her interest and she decided to get in contact with Uvanni and Polar Star.
“I wanted to grow,” said Henry. “I’m the youngest in my family and I’ve never left home. I just wanted to push myself into something new. Joining the Auxiliary and Polar Star was the best way to get me out of my comfort zone.”
Mirroring her counterparts, Henry went through several screening processes and was able to come aboard Polar Star to meet the crew and work in the galley.
“The whole process went pretty smoothly,” she said. “I think the only hectic thing was all the online training when I joined the Auxiliary!”
Originally, Henry said she enjoyed the cooking aspect of her culinary training, however, while underway she became the go-to baker.
“My bread, biscuits and desserts have surprisingly become well known on the cutter,” she said. “I’m a very well-rounded person but this experience has been so much more than I expected. I’m learning just as much as the galley cooks are; we teach each other different skills. One thing I have really been learning is the art of bread making. I dabbled into it before, but baking more often has helped me practice the craft.”
After enjoying her time working as a volunteer in Polar Star’s galley, Henry ultimately decided she will continue to use her culinary expertise in the Coast Guard. She plans on speaking to a recruiter and joining the Coast Guard as an active duty culinary specialist.
In the future, Henry said she hopes to serve onboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB 20) or return to Polar Star upon enlistment.
For the three Auxiliarists, assimilation to the crew began in the galley, but also spread to other parts of the boats. They worked to earn damage control qualifications, learned billets, participated in morale events and taught mindfulness classes to crewmembers.
Although they may have entered the cutter thinking they are different, they became essential parts of a working crew and equally as important as permanent members.
“I think when we first got here, people didn’t know what to think about us,” said Hickman. “Now that the crew is comfortable with us, they see what we have to offer. They look at us like team members. I personally have felt like a shipmate, and for me, being called a shipmate is an honor.”
The addition of Auxiliarists with diverse culinary expertise to the Polar Star’s galley created a positive impact in and outside of the cutter’s walls. Meal quality, menu diversity, and galley capacity boosted substantially at zero cost.
“It is an honor to serve alongside our Auxiliarists,” said Uvanni. “I hope the success of the Auxiliarists on board encourages more members to pursue afloat operational opportunities.”