BLT chow hall keeps morale up in Iskandariyah

25 Aug 2004 | Lance Cpl. Caleb J. Smith

Between guard shifts, patrols, and the many other things Marines have to endure while forward deployed, luxuries for the Marines of Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion., 2nd Marines are very few and far between. 

But there is one place here where Marines can sit down and relax, even if it's only for a few minutes. That place is the chow hall, dubbed the 1/2 Paradise Café and Fine Dining.

"(The chow hall) gives them something to look forward to every day, a change of pace," said Gunnery Sgt. John R. Straub, 38, a Sunburry, Pa., native, and mess chief, Battalion Landing Team 1/2.  "It's the one thing that changes every day."

For those looking to relax, the chow hall offers satellite television, air conditioning, a salad bar, desserts, and various cold drinks, including sport drink, soda, and juice.

Along with those items, Marines are served three hot meals a day, something rare for the forward deployed infantrymen. 

"This has never really been done before; there used to be just a hot meal for breakfast, then the Marines would eat a (Meal Ready to Eat) for lunch, then a not-so-good dinner," said Staff Sgt. Sydney L. Shaw, 31, a Charleston S.C., native, and assistant mess chief.  "Now we serve three hot meals a day for all Marines, sailors, and army personnel (on FOB Iskandariyah.)"

But serving three meals a day is no small task. 

"There was a time when we would work from (7 a.m.) until sometimes (11 p.m.)," said Shaw.  He went on to explain that Marines now work different shifts, a breakfast shift from 3 a.m. to 10 a.m. and a lunch shift from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The long hours aren't the only challenge. These Marines cook about 3,000 meals a day, and sometimes more. 

"We definitely keep busy," said Lance Cpl. Gregory W. Conaway, 21, a Catonsville, M.D., native and food service specialist with BLT 1/2. 

Although the Marines who work in the chow hall understand theirs is a thankless task, they know that their job entails a lot more than just cooking and serving food. In a continuous cycle of effort and exhaustion, they provide a service that tired, hungry Marines in Iskandariyah look forward to. 

"I tell my guys they may not get a thank-you, but what they do is much appreciated," said Straub.