A Carrier Of Morale: Chow Time

Posted: June 24, 1987

Then you're under way, there are only a few things a sailor can do on an aircraft carrier," the supply officer of the Independence was explaining. ''He can work, he can sleep, and he can eat."

Cmdr. E.J. Landerkin then leaned forward in his chair, as if poised to reveal a bit of confidential information.

"And if the food isn't any good, then there are really only two things he can do on the ship."

*

The commander's words were simply put, but they underlined the importance of food to a seagoing sailor. The expression "You are what you eat" takes on dramatic dimensions in the military in general and on a ship in particular.

Landerkin heads the Indy's monumental food chain, which can feed 5,000 sailors.

Just how many men chow down at any given meal depends on whether the gigantic aircraft carrier is under way, is docked or is undergoing an overhaul, such as the one now in progress at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The importance of what they eat, however, never changes.

"Food," Landerkin added, "is one of the biggest morale things we have that we can do for our crew. In the last couple of years, the Navy, particularly on aircraft carriers, in my opinion, has done some excellent things in food service."

One of the newer food innovations to which Landerkin was alluding is the ship's fast-food service. It has helped reduce the food-line time and has given younger sailors the kind of food they enjoy - and the kind that their civilian counterparts are also having.

But whether sailors are enjoying fast food or partaking of a full-course dinner, the logistics for feeding the vast number of people living aboard an aircraft carrier appear unfathomable at first glance.

For openers, it has to be realized that the Independence is a self- contained floating city without city limits - a city that, in theory, is capable of staying on the move indefinitely. It has its own daily newspaper, a three-channel television station, a two-frequency radio station and an air- conditioning system that could cool a structure the size of the Empire State Building.

There are a general store, two convenience stores, a laundry that washes and dries 50,000 pounds of clothing weekly, a dry cleaners, a uniform shop, a tobacco shop and three barber shops. The post office receives 347,500 pounds of mail during a normal cruise and 73,000 pounds for the ships sailing in its company.

Next, mull over these facts:

The Independence has seven complete dining facilities. Two forward galleys offer fast-food service and operate, on average, 23 hours a day. Together with five aft galleys, the enlisted personnel's dining facilities serve about 15,000 meals a day.

According to the ship's public-affairs office, a typical menu uses 40 gallons of chicken soup, 2,000 pounds of flour, 1,500 pounds of chicken, 80 gallons of gravy, 1,000 pounds of mashed potatoes, 600 pounds of sugar, 120 pounds of butter, 500 pounds each of green peas and white corn, 200 dozen cookies, 1,500 pounds of fresh vegetables, 600 gallons of fresh milk, 240 gallons of cold drinks, 400 pounds of bread - all seasoned with 60 pounds of

salt and 12 pounds of pepper.

And during a normal cruise, the crew washes all of that down with nearly a million cups of coffee.

"The mess decks are the life of the ship," said Landerkin, a Philadelphia native.

The Independence has been at the shipyard since April 1985 undergoing a 37- month Service Life Extension Program, which will give the carrier 15 years of additional service. Along with a modernization program that includes refurbished berthing spaces, there are 32 new convection ovens and a number of microwaves.

A recent tour aboard the Independence put these towering statistical figures into human perspective. At lunchtime, the ship's mess cooks (temporary kitchen assignment), working with the assigned cooks, fed the crew under working conditions that could be described as industrial, inasmuch as the ship was undergoing major repair and alteration.

But the words emblazoned on the T-shirts of the men working the serving line, "Food Service Second to None," told visitors that there is always pride in what a ship serves its personnel.

This day's lunch contained 660 pounds of spare ribs with a barbecue sauce that the mess manager, Petty Officer First Class Rich Layman, described as ''made from scratch." There were also chicken noodle soup, cauliflower, a cucumber salad, a huge salad bar and a number of desserts. And, just so no one would go hungry, hot dogs were available.

Not far from the serving lines, across the mess decks, a number of men were busy in the bake shop. Ensign John Rogers, the ship's food service officer, said everything aboard the Indy, especially when out to sea, was baked right on the ship.

"When we're under way, the bake shop bakes everything," he said. "All the breads. The hot dog rolls, the hamburger rolls, the Danish, the pastries, even the doughnuts."

Layman then led the way to the aft butcher shop, then to the vegetable prep room - also known as the spud locker. It's the spot at which the potatoes are peeled and readied for use.

The subject of starchy potatoes seemed a catalyst for senior mess management specialist G.S. Degano to explain the importance of limiting calories.

"We might order 1,200 pounds of potatoes just for one meal," he said, ''but the Navy is weight-conscious these days, and we also offer a good salad bar."

And, he added, necessary portion control is handled by the personnel who

serve the food.

As for the cost of all of this, Rogers said, the Navy allows about $3.73 to feed each individual three square meals a day - which means that at the end of the current quarter, the Independence will have spent something like $450,000 to feed its crew.

When the ship is under way, Rogers said, that figure will double - give or take a little.

"The quality of food is standard from ship to ship and galley to galley," Landerkin, the supply officer, said. "We have developed a management overlay that begins with the food-service systems office in Washington and which fields teams in major tidewater ports that come aboard and assist, and also impose a discipline.

"I think the food service is dramatically better than it was and that our people are also better trained."

Meanwhile, back at the bake shop, Layman was explaining the Indy's doughnut machine.

"That's brand-new," he said, pointing to the machinery. "It can turn out 500 rations of doughnuts an hour. With a piece of equipment like that, we can keep up with any Dunkin' Donuts. That's for sure."

Just to give you a feel for cooking aboard the Independence, here's the ship's recipe for creamed ground beef, the sailor's perennial favorite that, when served on toast, goes under the familiar nickname "S.O.S."

CREAMED GROUND BEEF

18 pounds ground beef

1 1/2 quarts all-purpose flour, sifted

4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons black pepper

9 tablespoons soup-and-gravy base

8 2/3 cups nonfat dry milk

2 1/4 gallons warm water

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Brown beef in its own fat in roasting pan until it loses its pink color, stirring to break apart. Drain or skim off excess fat. Add flour, salt, pepper and soup-and-gravy base to the beef. Mix thoroughly, and cook about five minutes, until flour is absorbed.

Reconstitute milk with the warm water, and add to mixture. Add Worcestershire sauce, heat to a simmer, stirring frequently. Cook until thickened. Makes 100 portions of two-thirds cup each.

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