KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- After toiling in the harsh sun and sand all morning, Marines surprisingly found themselves eating a hot, full course meal in a make-shift motor pool on a remote desert patch of Afghanistan.
The meal came courtesy the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s food service specialists and their new Field Food Service System, used for the first time this meal.
The FFSS is essentially a mobile kitchen where food service Marines can prepare and serve cafeteria quality meals to more than 500 Marines in remote locations.
“The Marine Corps purchased these [systems] approximately four years ago to support operations just like in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Sgt. Charles W. Parmenter, chief messman, food service specialist, Headquarters and Support Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, ISAF. “Now we are finally getting to use these [units] in these places.”
“We can supply chow (meals) in any condition, at any climate,” said Parmenter, a 10-year food service veteran. “No matter where the Marines go we can set up a field mess, which is a site where there basically is a kitchen that can feed an X amount of Marines over a certain period of time.”
The system provides all the tools needed to create a cook-out rivaling those at home, and in the case of a MEU this is the first time they have been utilized.
“Every piece of gear in here is the same as you would have at any base,” said Parmenter. “You can cook exactly the same as if you were on any base, cooking the same chow they order with the vendors.”
An invaluable advantage of the FFSS is its capability to draw power from tactical (most military) vehicles, to heat water and cook fresh-frozen meals, said Staff Sgt. Lenard V. Tilley, senior mess chief, Headquarters and Support Company, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF.
“It’s a great piece of equipment to have when you can throw it in the back of a truck and take with you to prepare a good meal for Marines,” said Col. Peter Petronzio, commanding officer, 24th MEU, ISAF. “This piece of equipment will be a tremendous capability on the battlefield.”
Along with making a meal, grilled or steamed, the FFSS also helps keep morale high while out in the field, where the delicacy is often Meals-Ready-to-Eat.
“It’s a whole lot better than eating MRE’s, because eating MRE’s everyday just gets terrible after awhile,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua D. Sepanski, mortarman, Combined Anti-Armor Team platoon, Weapons Company, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF. “Having a good hot meal once and awhile is good. [It] helps you stay focused and sharp.”
Helping create an environment where Marines can relax and clear their minds is essential for operational success.
“Eventually we are going to step out the wire and do what we got to do,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher R. Sanderson, mortarman, second platoon, Weapons Co., BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF. “We are not going to have hot chow all the time, so we have to take advantage of it as much as possible.”
Fielding of the food system helps keep Marines focused by upholding the Marine Corps’ second leadership principle – troop welfare.
“I feel that is the most important part in the Marine Corps,” said Parmenter. “As long as Marines are well fed, taken care of and have good morale, we can accomplish anything, in any climate. With this piece of equipment we can (help) do that."