Most Viewed Stories
Cooking for the Corps
Welcome to the mess hall at MCAS Yuma
The Marines assigned to the mess hall at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma work long and hard hours every day to make sure there is plenty of good food available for their fellow brothers- and sisters-in arms who arrive hungry at the chow hall.
“We usually plan to serve between 700 and 1,000 Marines per meal,” said General Manager Al Schutt, a retired master sergeant with 24 years in the Corps. “We try to make them happy. If they don't come back, we will all be out of jobs. It is our whole focus.”
In addition to being the oldest chow hall in the Marine Corps, built in 1960 and opening in 1961, the mess hall also happens to be one of the best, having received numerous accolades for all the good cooking that goes on in its kitchen.
“Our customer satisfaction score is the tops on the West Coast, so it definitely proves what the Marines here are seeing,” said Schutt, who has been the mess hall general manager for nine years.
The enlisted staff who have worked at the mess hall over the years have won the prestigious W.P.T Hill Award four times, including three years in a row from 2003-2005. The award is named after Maj. Gen. William P.T. Hill, who served as Quartermaster for the Marine Corps from 1944-55. It recognizes the best chow halls in the Corps.
“We rated very well this year, but we did not win the competition,” said Master Sgt. Cherelle Peters-Williams. “Next year will be our year.”
The chow hall at MCAS Yuma is also the first mess hall to have won the award two years in a row.
Schutt explained that what it comes down to is treating the Marines like paying customers, because the mess hall is actually competing against other restaurants in town and on the air station.
Peters-Williams said menus are on a repeating 21-day cycle, with breakfast being served from 4:30 to 7:30 a.m., lunch 11 to 1 and dinner 4 to 6, every day. There is also a fast food section that's open Monday through Friday only.
Gunnery Sgt. Douglas McClellan said food is served cafeteria-style, and provides the choice of a full-blown meal, with Marines being able to choose from two different types of meat, two starches and sides of fruits and vegetables, along with a dessert. There is also a meat carving station.
“We carve the food right in front of the patron as they come in,” McClellan said. “It could be chicken, turkey, brisket, something like that.”
In addition to the main food line, there are four different bars every day, which are a pizza bar, a fusion bar, salad bar and a deli bar. The mess hall also has its own bakery where bread, doughnuts and other pastries and desserts are continually made.
While the personnel at the mess hall strive to make every meal the best meal possible, McClellan said there are certain guidelines for preparing foods in the armed forces.
“We have an armed forces recipe service and we have to follow those recipes,” McClellan said. “We always try to look for ways to enhance things to give the customer a better experience and keep them coming back. We always have people from other bases coming in here and saying, ‘Wow, I wish our mess hall was like this.”
Everything is made from scratch every day and the Marines who work there are split up into three different shifts, with about eight Marines per shift, except for the night shift when there are two. The enlisted personnel who work in the mess hall are typically from Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron and Marine Wing Support Squadron 371.
While most mess halls these days are fully civilian-staffed, McClellan explained that the chow hall at MCAS Yuma is one of only six training mess halls on the West Coast where Marines actually do all the cooking.
“We have both Marines and civilians working here. This is one of the only mess halls where Marines actually get in the galley and cook food,” McClellan said. “The civilian contractors handle the financial and overall operation of the mess hall. The Marines prepare all the food and the civilians set it up and serve it.”
A Marine doesn't need to have had a background in cooking or food preparation to be assigned to work in the mess hall. McClellan explained that when a Marine graduates from boot camp, they attend a military occupation school, where they get trained in the basics of being a food service specialist.
“We like to tell them if you can read a recipe, then you can cook,” Peters-Williams said.
Working in the chow hall is what is known as “garrison cooking,” and Peters-Williams explained the reason it is important is that when Marines are deployed, they do their own cooking. She said by having Marines do the cooking, instead of a civilian staff, they will know how to do it when they are called upon to do so.
“We have maintained our continuity of having Marine cooks in certain facilities because when they go overseas they are responsible for the cooking. If they don't get to do that here stateside, then they lose that skill set.” Peters-Williams said. “So we have certain facilities stateside that continue to have Marines cooks to hone that skill.”
Peters-Williams said one of the things that sets the mess hall at MCAS Yuma apart from the others is the teamwork and camaraderie among the staff and the customers.
“One team, one fight, we like to say,” Peters-Williams said.
With Yuma being the busiest air station in the Corps, constantly hosting units that come here to train, the enlisted staff who work at the mess hall not only are tasked with feeding permanent personnel on a daily basis, but visiting service members, some of whom are foreigners.
During the biannual Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course (WTI), the air station's population nearly doubles.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.
Food at the chow hall at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma is served cafeteria-style and provides the choice of a full-blown meal, with Marines being able to chose from two different types of meat, two starches and sides of fruits and vegetables, along with a dessert. There is also a meat carving station.
Hungry Marines line up to get their lunch during the most recent WTI course. Menus at the mess hall are on a repeating 21-day cycle, with breakfast being served from 4:30 to 7:30 a.m., lunch 11 to 1 and dinner 4 to 6, every day. There's also a fast-food section that's open Monday through Friday.
In addition to the main food line, there are four different bars every day, which are a pizza bar, a fusion bar, salad bar and a deli bar. The mess hall also has its own bakery where bread, doughnuts and other pastries and deserts are constantly being made.