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06-11-10, 09:39 PM #1
So you want to be Food Service....
Without a doubt, the BEST dissertation on Food Service Marines I've seen. Thanks to LCpl Beltayn for the information. OUTSTANDING information from someone in the MOS.
Join Date: Mar 2010
"I'm interested in Food Service. Can anyone tell me what their experience in that area is? I enjoy cooking and serving people."
How hard is it to switch my MOS later on if I decide I don't like what I'm doing?
I am a Food Service Specialist myself, so I can help you out with my perspective on that potential MOS.
The thing to understand about cooking in the Marine Corps verses cooking as most people experience it is that as a cook in the Marine Corps you are cooking on an industrial level. What I mean by that is that you aren't sitting there sauteing a couple handfuls of vegetables in a frying pan and making filet mignon and arranging it all prettily on plates, you are pouring 30 gallons of bulk-quantity mac and cheese into a gigantic metal steam jacket kettle and making 1000 portions instead of 3 or 4 like you would at home. Particularly if you are assigned to an infantry unit you will be regularly cooking a product for hundreds or thousands of portions at a time.
That isn't to say that a Food Service Specialist doesn't get the occasional opportunity to display our talents, mainly through competitions such as Chef of the Quarter or through General's Aid duty (more on that later), and that isn't to say that you wont learn a LOT about cooking (because you will) or have the opportunity to earn the right to go to study at prestigious schools such as the Culinary Institute of America (a Lance Corporal colleague of mine is there right now). But understand when you picture the job that your primary way of spending your 4 years will consist of emptying pre-made mixes into massive kettles, stirring them around a little bit, and then slopping the resulting concoctions into pans to be slopped back out again on a cafeteria-style serving line. And cleaning, LOTS of cleaning. If you can't stand scrubbing you will not survive as a cook.
While every duty station is different, in the modern Marine Corps most chow halls are run with a combination of both Marine cooks and civilian workers or attached Marine "Messmen". The cooks are responsible for preparing the food, but do not get to actually have much interaction with their patrons who get to enjoy it, and unfortunately are unable to derive job satisfaction through doing so, because serving the chow is the responsibility of the civilians or Messmen.
Cooks work very long hours and have much less time off than most other MOSs due to the fact that everybody always has to eat, including on weekends and holidays and 96s when all the grunts and admin guys and harrier mechanics or whatever are all off enjoying the sunshine and complaining about how much their own jobs suck. I've personally experienced that the cooks have a pretty tight bond with PMO (the military policemen) due to the mutual suffering of being worked like dogs when everyone else is off enjoying themselves.
This is especially evident on a deployment at sea, on a "float", which every other MOS loves as basically a free vacation cruise around the world, but which you spend working all day, every day, often from before the sun comes up to after it goes down constantly trying to meet the needs of thousands of Marines and Sailors trying to drown their boredom in food.
Food Service is one of those MOSs which generally has a manpower shortage (since few people grow up with a vision of wanting to join the big bad Marine Corps to be a cook, rather than a super-scout-sniper-recon-harrier pilot-ordnance-Rambo-JAG-Spartacus-artillery warrior). Because of this, it is one of the MOSs which is frequently given Marines who join on an open contract expecting to be assigned scout-sniper-blah-blah, or Marines who got in trouble in their previous MOS and are punitively reassigned to Food Service. This unfortunately results in having to work with a disproportionate number of depressed/disgruntled/troublemaker/bitter colleagues compared to other jobs where everybody you work with at least chose to be there, even if they came to realize later it wasn't everything they had dreamed (i.e. infantry).
This can be a challenge, but it can also be to your advantage because it puts you in a position as a squared-away motivator to excel and be recognized with rank, awards, and the privileges to advance your culinary knowledge by attending specialized schools and cool duties.
General's Aide is one of the unique positions available to Food Service Specialists. It amounts to basically becoming a General's private chef. You live with him, you travel with him (and get stacks of ribbons in the process), and when he wants a grilled cheese sandwich at 0200 in the morning, you make it for him. This is a huge opportunity as it puts you in the direct view of a mover-and-shaker which can be huge for your career, and allows you to have all kinds of interesting experiences hunting for blueberries in some distant African port in the middle of winter because your general issued you a direct order that his pancakes WILL have blueberries on top of them.
Yes, this is a true story.
When you deploy, there are a couple different possibilities to expect. If you end up in one of the larger bases, such as Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, or formerly in Camp Fallujah in Iraq, things will go much as they did in garrison back in the states or elsewhere. If you are with a grunt unit, however, you will typically either be setting up a field kitchen with burners out in a tent somewhere, or more likely cooking out of a hot-water heating unit bolted to the back of a Hummvee. Meals will come in pre-cooked packages you simply heat up with your water heater, and you will spend your time driving around from FOB to FOB or artillery battery to artillery battery distributing meals out of the back of your vehicle.
Being a cook in the Marine Corps is a hard job, one of the hardest. Don't let anyone tell you different. The grunts will love you though, you can get favors from pretty much whatever shop you want, and you can take pride in the fact that yours is the only MOS in the Marine Corps that is inspected thousands of times a day and you are held to a very high standard.
Like any job, there are upsides and downsides.
One of the advantages is that it is typically pretty easy to pick up rank, compared to most MOSs. This is true both for the cutting-score-based ranks of Corporal and Sergeant, and for Staff NCO ranks based on selection. The main reason for this is the manpower shortage and the trouble they have retaining people in the MOS.
As far as disadvantages, as I already mentioned you work long hours, on your feet the entire time with few if any breaks, and you get less time off than everyone else. Additionally you smell like food. You may laugh, but its serious. Food smell gets in your pores, in your hair, in all of your uniforms, and no matter how much you shower, wash, or try to cover it up it will be there. I've always found it incredibly embarrassing that someone can tell my MOS just by smelling me, and there's probably bulk fuelers that can sympathize.
The work its self is simple to learn, but difficult to master. Anyone can be a cook, and that's why they make pretty much anyone be cooks, but few can develop into GOOD cooks. It may not have the glamor of repairing million dollar jet engines or shooting machine guns, but people notice when you are good at what you do, even though you rarely get thanked. After being at a duty station or unit for a while, you will find that EVERYONE knows who you are and that you are a cook and people in the serving line will be able to tell what you made or ask specifically when you will be working or what you'll be cooking the next meal. That kind of small-time appreciation can be really cool. When you go to the rifle range and all the Marines in your relay recognize you as "Hey! You're the pastry guy aren't you!" it can feel pretty good.
Quote:How hard is it to switch my MOS later on if I decide I don't like what I'm doing?
As far as this question, it depends. Unfortunately, I think the greatest falsehood perpetuated by the recruitment pipeline is the idea that "if you find out you hate your MOS, you can always change it later". While it is true that some MOSs enable you to lateral move out relatively easily, many do not. Unfortunately, it is pretty much always the exact MOSs that people are most desperate to get out of which it is near impossible to do so as a first-term Marine without reenlisting. While technically lat-moving is an option upon the 2-year mark, in my experience the window of actual opportunity to a first-termer not planning to reenlist is narrow to the point of nonexistence, where you have either not been in long enough for your MOS Monitor to be willing to let you go, or else don't have enough time left on your contract for them to let you lat-move without reenlisting.
Food Service is one of those MOSs it is near-impossible for a first-termer to get out of without reenlisting, for the exact reason why they put so many people in it in the first place that end up hating it; the manpower shortage. If they let everybody that wanted to get out of Food Service do so, they'd lose almost all their lower enlisted cooks.
I hope what I took the time to write was helpful in your decision, and if you have any further questions about Food Service, you need but ask. I promise that I'll give you both the good, the bad, and the ugly honestly, because I know a lot of Marines that wish someone had done the same for them when they originally picked their MOS (not just cooks, but all occupational fields).
With some minor editing by Sgt Leprechaun. Great post Beltayn.
I weep for what this country is becoming, and fear for my children and grandchildren's future if any more democrats gain national office. We lose more and more freedoms every single day to creeping nannystatism and those who vote for Democrats only want to increase that. Anyone voting for a 'dem' is someone who likely wants to take everything YOU have worked for and mortgage your kids future as well.
The Malignant Leprechaun
06-11-10, 09:43 PM #2
To Beltayn. Thanks and I really do mean that. I never thought about how much comfort the chow hall really is. I never thought about you guys before. You and the other cooks have gotten me through many bad day's.
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