JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – At Joint Base Langley-Eustis you’ll find a different take on the U.S. Army’s culinary specialists, and that involves Soldiers who keep Soldiers healthy and ready for the fight… at sea.
Third Port, also known as the Army’s “Navy”, is a 40-acre nautical complex and home port to several Army vessels with crews who still need to eat while operating in the maritime environment. These culinary soldiers serve aboard Landing Craft Utility (LCU) and Logistic Support Vessel (LSV) ships. Typically each LCU has two culinary specialists, and LSVs have three, who are all providing a critical, and sometimes creative, service for a 24-hour operation.
“You have to love food, you have to be able to have an adventurous palette of sorts, because, while we have certain rules and regulations, in order to really enjoy the job and reap the benefits, you … have to do both,” said Sgt. Charlane Gray, 489th Transportation Detachment, Training Transportation Battalion culinary specialist.
Because LSV’s deploy with a crew of 31 Soldiers, and LCU’s with 15, culinary specialists may experience more flexibility compared to feeding hundreds or thousands. Soldiers working in the galley still have to adhere to U.S. Army regulations and standards, but they may be able to add or try new things.
“It’s a different take on being an Army culinary specialist,” said Gray. “We are only feeding large family style meals, which means we’re not just a factory where you’re just pushing out meals, and it’s tedious and monotonous.”
Gray added she encourages junior Soldiers to step outside of the dining facility and recipe cards.
This can include getting to know their crewmates so they cook or bake something special for their birthdays, anniversaries, or other notable milestones.
“We also have people from different regions, so we can try and cater to what they might like and look up different recipes,” said Pfc. Brittany Arnold, 329th Composite Watercraft Company, 10th Battalion, culinary specialist. “If you’re from the south and you’re missing it, we can make you a southern meal, or if you’re from Puerto Rico or a Spanish country, we can cater to that, and it’s special to be a part of that; where people look forward to seeing us.”
While sailing at sea, Soldiers are manning spaces and operating equipment non-stop, with typical watch-standing rotation occurring every four hours.
“Meals have to be on the ‘dot’ because people are switching shifts, and ensuring that everything is covered-down on so everybody gets a chance to eat,” said Arnold. “If we miss that window, they might not get to eat that meal.”
For most culinary specialist serving on a vessel, the day begins around 4 a.m. in order to get breakfast ready to be served by 6:30 a.m. Once each Soldier has had this first meal, they switch into clean-up and sanitize mode followed by lunch time preparations. This cycle continues until the last meal of the day has been served, and all galley and mess deck areas have been cleaned, sanitized, and all boxes and trash has properly been disposed of or stored. This usually brings a close to their day at 9 p.m.
“We have one last food option to prepare for the those on mid-watch,” Arnold added. “Sometimes I like to bake something like a cake. [It’s] like being at home, and someone made something nice for you to close out the long day.”
Storage areas for food, non-perishables, and dry goods on these types of vessels are not large compared to larger scale ships. This results in Soldiers having to be very detailed-oriented when it comes to how they plan and coordinate each meal. They will have to ration out their supplies based on how many Soldiers are onboard, and the planned duration of time at sea.
“We also have to learn about different religious preferences, Soldiers with food allergies onboard, or people with gluten and dairy intolerances,” said Arnold. “It’s not only about cooking, but we have to know health and safety for our Soldiers, because at the end of the day we are responsible to make sure that everybody stays safe.”
Relating to the health and wellbeing of the embarked crew, these culinary specialist spend much of their efforts in sanitizing everything they used to prepare their dishes, serve their meals, and the areas where Soldiers eat.
“We are all one team that’s rotating constantly every four hours, but when that’s between four people so the last thing you can have is food born illnesses because it’s going to affect everyone onboard, the mission and even back home,” said Arnold. “A vessel full of sick Soldiers can stop or delay a mission for up to a couple of weeks and we can’t afford that.”
There are other unique perspectives that an Army culinary specialist can gain from being assigned to maritime unit that. Arnold has experienced firsthand.
“Waking up in the morning and seeing the open ocean is so rewarding and so peaceful, and we get to travel the world,” said Arnold. “I never expected that when I entered this career field, that I would be able to sail from one side of this world to the other side. I’ve also learned so much about sailing already that I didn’t think I would. It’s so rewarding and I look for to each day being a culinary specialist on a vessel, because it’s new experience every day.”