When a fire broke out aboard the Peruvian navy corvette Guise, causing the ship to lose power for several days, the U.S. Navy called on the veterinary food inspectors (VFI) of Public Health Activity-Hawaii who were already providing their expertise and food inspection support for RIMPAC 22.
During RIMPAC, the PHA-H Soldiers were responsible for food inspection, food safety, and quality of subsistence for American warfighters, but they didn’t hesitate when a participating nation needed assistance.
“As soon as we got the call from Lt. Steven Dickens and Sgt. 1st Class Erik Board from the Navy food management team, we jumped into action,” said Staff Sgt. Marissa Henson, the non-commissioned officer in charge of U.S. food inspection for RIMPAC. “We coordinated to arrive the very next morning.”
On July 18, Henson, Sgt. Yamil Jorge, Sgt. Miguel Cordero, and Spc. Andre Rochon, conducted a joint inspection of all subsistence aboard the Peruvian ship. Sgt. Morgan Renihan, Tripler Army Medical Center’s preventive medicine NCOIC, accompanied the VFIs from PHC-P, providing comprehensive food safety and sanitation support.
“There were a lot of unknowns prior to getting on board,” added Henson. “We didn’t know how long they had lost power, or what food products they had.”
Henson was sure of one thing: who she was going to bring along to complete the inspection.
“I wanted to take additional Soldiers for the experience, and that definitely included Sgt. Jorge,” Henson said. “Not only is he a great 68R, but I knew he could help translate with the Peruvian crew.”
Jorge, a PHA-H food inspector was born and raised in Puerto Rico.
“Of course I wanted to help them, and I was also excited to get the opportunity to do my job in Spanish for the first time,” said Jorge.
“It’s good the Army is so diverse, because when these things happen you have Soldiers like me, who know different languages and cultures, and can jump into action, to have impact,” he added.
According to Eusine Bacigacuno, the Peruvian ship’s supply officer, Guise’s walk-in freezer and refrigerator storage units were without power for over four days.
“We knew as soon as we opened the freezer that there were obvious signs of temperature abuse, but we still wanted to help as much as possible,” added Henson.
The team recommended that most of the food items be discarded, with the exception of some consumables, including butter and whole, unprocessed fresh fruits and vegetables.
Despite the loss of food, the PHC-P Soldiers were able to turn the experience into a valuable training opportunity for the crew aboard Guise.
“In the beginning, the crew was hoping we could give them the green light, but that became less and less hopeful as our inspection went on,” Henson said. “I made sure to bring a flow chart of food safety and with Sgt. Jorge’s help, they were able to better understand why we were making these decisions.”
The result of the joint inspection ensured that safe and unsafe subsistence was clearly identified in order to preserve the health of Peruvian sailors assigned to Guise, and ultimately allowing them to safely proceed with RIMPAC training.
“What’s important is we were able to help keep the crew safe,” said Jorge. “We’re a small [military occupational specialty] and when things like this happen, you need your 68R to get these issues squared away.
“As food inspectors, we’re able to get our hands dirty and get the job done as the first line of defense,” Jorge added.
While this situation highlighted the PHA-H team’s readiness and ability to spring into action on short notice, Henson attributed her team’s success to its ability to operate with American service branches and its reliable reputation with partner nations.
“It’s great to have such a strong relationship working with the other branches so closely. I’m glad they called on us,” said Henson.