Saturday, October 21, 2006

USS Boxer Condenses Meal Plan

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Joshua Valcarcel of the U.S. 7th Fleet Amphibious Force

USS BOXER, At Sea (NNS) (10/3/06) -- USS Boxer (LHD 4) implemented a new method of food service right before the ship’s current deployment, which began in early September.

The ship serves meals 24 hours a day to accommodate the nearly 3,000 Sailors and Marines aboard Boxer.

The concept behind 24-hour service is to help alleviate long lines, eliminate the use of meal passes and the need for saving meals for those who cannot make traditional meal hours.

“A long line with the 24-hour service is a 30 minute wait, whereas before it was over an hour,” said Boxer Senior Chief Culinary Specialist (AW/SW) Russ Paje, who helped lead the change. “People were discouraged and wouldn’t wait for the meals provided, resorting to junk food like candy and soda.”

Coinciding with the 24-hour shift, Boxer has gone from a 35-day menu to a more compact 21-day meal plan, as many ships have already done. The new meal plan will feed the crew for 21 days. At the end of those 21 days, the menu starts over again.

The 21-day meal plan relies heavily on pre-packaged goods, more than the previous meal plan. The amount of food consumed hasn’t changed, but the need for processed, non-perishable goods cuts costs.

“I believe we are saving money,” said Solares. “For example, after-hour meals required consumables like paper plates, but with the 24-hour service the need for those consumables is removed.”

Some crew members thought that by serving meals 24-hours a day, Sailors and Marines would eat too much and have trouble meeting military weight standards, while others believe this allows the crew to eat portions that are more balanced by tailoring meals to their work schedules.

“I think it takes a lot of quality food out of late night meals,” said Boxer Marine Sgt. Leonard Batiste, a well deck platoon sergeant with Boxer’s Combat Cargo department. “The guys that work at night don’t eat as well, and some guys might gain weight.”

The new schedule comes as a welcome change to many watch standers because it gives them the opportunity to get a meal without having to rush.

“I don’t complain at all,” said Aviations Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Hermis Gonzalez. “After working long hours, it’s great to have a break to eat.”

Serving food 24-hours a day also means the dining facilities need to be manned and operational around the clock. It requires two 12-hour shifts, by food service attendants and cooks, to cook, serve and clean.“

The long shifts can be really frustrating, but we’re here for the Boxer, and the crew has to eat,” said Marine Pfc. Stefan Ciotlos, assigned to the command element of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit/Special Operations Capable.

Despite the challenge that the increased workload presents, customer service is always the top priority.“

"If the crew is happy, I’m happy,” said Boxer Culinary Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Antonio Albano.

Boxer will continue with the program and monitor its progress throughout their deployment.“Feedback is all I want,” added Paje. “Making ship life more comfortable for everyone is my goal.”

Boxer, commanded by Capt. Bruce W. Nichols, is the flag ship for the Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group, operating out of San Diego, which is reporting operationally to Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/ Task Force 76, the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious task force.

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