Aboard USS Mount Whitney, a good meal goes a long way

By Kim E. Dixon, MSCEURAF Public Affairs

The smell of barbecue ribs wafts throughout the passageways all afternoon, making those embarked in USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) eagerly await the dinner meal service. As the line of hungry U.S. 6th Fleet staffers pass in front of them, the civil service cooks and stewards greet them with a smile, a pleasant word and obvious pride in the meal they are plating up for the men and women who are spending two weeks aboard in support of an exercise. Meals often present a high point in the day of an otherwise hectic schedule, courtesy of Military Sealift Command’s seasoned civil service mariners.

GAETA, Italy (Sept. 13, 2012) — Tony Arquisola (front) and Robert Ferrer, civil service mariners, prepares ribs for dinner in the galleyaboard 6th Fleet’s flagship, USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20). The civil service mariners perform navigation, deck, engineering, laundry and galley service operations while military personnal aboard the ship support communications, weapon systems and security. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Josh Bennett)

Mount Whitney transferred to MSC in 2004, when it was subsequently deployed to its new homeport in Gaeta, Italy, for assignment as the U.S. 6th Fleet command ship. It was one of the first MSC ships to implement a combined crew of civil service mariners and military personnel, both commanded by a U.S. Navy captain. The approximately 150 civil service mariners perform navigation, deck, engineering, laundry and galley service operations while a similar number of military officer and enlisted personnel support communications, weapons systems and security.

While each of those CIVMAR responsibilities is equally important to ensuring the mission accomplishment of the U.S. Sixth Fleet and NATO staff and senior leadership when embarked, some of the most visible CIVMAR faces are on the other end of a serving ladle.

It is often said that an army travels on its stomach; the same applies to the Navy. Embarked for sometimes months on end in a U.S. Navy ship, a good meal can go a long way in contributing to the morale and well-being of all those aboard. MSC CIVMARs work diligently to ensure that is the case.

GAETA, Italy (Sept. 13, 2012) Civil service mariner Randall Connell prepares dinner for the crew of the amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) here in the ship’s galley. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian T. Glunt)

“I’m in charge of two wardrooms, one chief petty officer mess, one main mess, and one flag mess,” said Chief Cook Roberto Ferrer. “For almost everyone here, it’s not their first ship. They are making comparisons to other ships. It’s a point of pride to give them their best experience.”

Although operating with a combined operating crew of more than 300, the number of personnel aboard can more than double when U.S. 6th Fleet staff embarks, like during a September 2012 underway period during which there were 571 mouths to feed. As Ferrer explained, the ship receives no additional CIVMARs or staff to assist with meal preparation or service. That doesn’t change the quality of service provided, though.

“I think it’s real important to give it your best shot when cooking food,” said Second Cook Baker Goran Lovric, who works in the Flag Mess. “When you sit down to have a meal, and it’s good, it gives you a boost. I cook for you, my co-workers, the junior enlisted person, and the three-star admiral all the same – they’re people to me. If I set my standards high, no matter the task, I’m giving the best to everyone.”

GAETA, Italy (Sept. 13, 2012) — Nestor Abadam, a civil service mariner, prepares potatoes for dinner in the galley aboard 6th Fleet’s flagship, USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Josh Bennett)

“We let them know we’re here for them and show good customer service,” said Second Cook Darrell Covington, who works as a steward responsible for room assignments and keys. “In the end, I do feel like the military thinks I’m helping them to get their job done.”

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