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thedrifter
04-03-06, 11:06 AM
Marine aides make it look easy
April 03,2006
ANNE CLARK

Daily News StaffThe sun was just dipping into the New River when dinner guests began to arrive at the house of Lt. Gen. and Mrs. Amos. Ten general officers and their wives were greeted at the door, then warmly received with drinks and hors d’oeuvres: shrimp dipped into basil pesto and pizzettes — little crusty pizzas — topped with basil leaves and prosciutto.

“Anything Italian,” said Gunnery Sgt. T. J. Hansen. “General and Mrs. Amos are really in love with that culture.”

Hansen and Master Sgt. Scott Wilde are the only two Marine aides on Camp Lejeune, and only two of 24 aides in all the Marine Corps.

Wilde, who works for Maj. Gen. and Mrs. Dickerson, helped Hansen the night of the dinner party. Their uniforms are crisp white chef’s jackets with the Marine Corps emblem sewn on one side; their office is the kitchen, a white-countered space with two ovens. Tonight, they have pulled in a spare table. That’s where they will arrange dinner on china plates before taking them out to the guests.

Hansen and Wilde each began their careers in mess halls, serving as many as 1,500 hungry Marines at once, so they know about stress and the need to work quickly. For those meals, they could go through 30 pounds of flour alone.

On the night of the Amos’s dinner party, the aides worked with far fewer ingredients, but a more refined menu: the entrees would be manicotti, asparagus spears, and chicken scallopini. Earlier in the day, Hansen had pounded and sautéed the chicken, then put them on trays inside one of the extra refrigerators kept in the garage.

Hansen and Wilde got their formal training through the Marine Aide Program at the Navy Annex in Arlington, Va. Soon they were serving meals to generals, admirals, the Secretary of Defense, even the commandant of the Marine Corps.

During parade season, the commandant will usually throw a backyard party prior to a parade at the Marine Barracks. Being outdoors didn’t necessarily make it a casual affair. Wilde remembered making marinated shrimp, canapés and smoked salmon.

After their two-year training, Hansen and Wilde worked as aides for three- and four-star generals. Besides cooking for official functions, the aides also tend to their general’s uniform and keep the downstairs living areas of the general’s quarters tidy.

“You never know when the General will have dignitaries over,” said Hansen. “You have to make sure it’s always presentable.”

In a profession that prizes efficiency, Hansen and Wilde do as much as possible in advance. But as private chefs, they also have some latitude to be creative.

They’ll each plan a menu with the general’s wife, keeping in mind guests’ preferences and any allergies. They even consider how the meal will look on the plate, trying to include a variety of colors and textures.

For the Amos’s dinner party, Hansen and Wilde took the sautéed chicken from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving time. They poured warm lemon caper sauce over them, then heated them in the oven. Six pans of manicotti were also baking.

When everything was done, the aides arranged them on warm plates — which had been waiting in a 200-degree oven — and took them to the 18 guests, seated at two long dining room tables with a gorgeous river view.

Not every dinner goes so smoothly. About 10 years ago, Wilde was cooking for a general officer who had invited local leaders for dinner, which was to be crab-stuffed flounder.

Wilde put them in the oven — which he’d forgotten to turn on. He realized his mistake with time to cook the flounder in the microwave, stopping and checking its cooking every minute or two. The general never noticed, but Wilde later told him what had happened.

There were no such near-misses the night of the Amos party. Dinner went splendidly, followed by a dessert the aides had prepared a day earlier, pots of crème brulee with caramelized sugar on top. It was a sweet ending to a perfect gathering.

“We couldn’t ask for anyone nicer,” said Wilde. “We’ve been blessed with the generals we’re working for right now.”

Ellie