Cooking that holiday meal for 10 or 20 family members can be stressful. Imagine cooking that holiday meal for more than 200 Marines.
That was the task of a group of Cherry Point Marines who spent their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the mess hall trying to bring just a taste of home to the working Marines at the air station.
"I’ve been doing this job for 10 1/2 years, and I take pride in it," said Staff Sgt. William Taylor, chief cook at Cherry Point. "The Marines take a lot of pride because they know what it’s like not to go home. The Marines at Christmas time do an awesome job. The Marines that stay here on holidays really appreciate it."
The Christmas Day menu included roast beef, roast turkey and baked ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and corn, pumpkin pie, assorted fruit pies and a long list of other tasty delights.
The cooks prepare food for about 2,000 Marines daily. With the holiday, about 235 were expected. Still, the cooks prepared the dinner with all the care as a grandmother cooking for her family.
Department of Defense civilians and old veterans alike came by to eat with the young Marines for Christmas.
"Some come with their families and absolutely appreciate it," Taylor said. "Some of these are old guys, World War II veterans. A lot of those old veterans prefer to come here instead of going somewhere else. They prefer to give back because of all that has been given to them. It kind of reminds them of being home but not being at home."
Taylor said serving a first-class meal boosts morale among the Marines who can’t be home for the holidays.
"For not being home with their families, morale is actually pretty good," Taylor said. "For some of the Marines, there is no other place they’d rather be than here. It’s like family. A lot of these Marines know that in the grand scheme of things, it’s a greater purpose than themselves."
Cpl. Brady Lamb, a logistics and electronics specialist from Washington state, stayed at Cherry Point instead of travelling across the country to be with family.
"It’s like another family actually," he said. "After you’ve done it for so long, it’s like another family."
Though he’s partial to a good breakfast, the mid-day meals are on par as well, Lamb said.
"I like the variety, the steaks and the fish," he said. "I had some pretty awesome cod last night."
Pvt. Quamir Mathis is one of the galley cooks at Cherry Point.
"It’s a wonderful thing to provide for these fellows. That way they can provide for everybody else," Mathis said. "When you put out a bad meal, it really reflects on everybody back there. When you put out a good meal, everybody loves it."
Mathis said dinner is a rewarding meal to serve because all of the Marines have just finished a hard day’s work.
"Everybody is getting off work. It’s hectic in the kitchen. Everybody’s out there," he said. "If you can put out a good quality meal while there’s a rush on you, then you know you got it."
Mathis is among about 30 mess hall workers, including line servers, scullery workers, salad preparers, flight kitchen workers preparing box meals, maintenance personnel, storeroom stockers, managers, bakers and other galley cooks that are needed to pull off a dinner service.
"They bust their (butts) in here and they don’t get the recognition," Taylor said of all the workers.
Mathis said the group is more than just co-workers.
"It’s more like a family than a team," he said. "It’s like Sunday at your mom’s house when everybody’s helping each other. It’s definitely like a family."
The mess hall is a vital part of the life of a Marine, Taylor said.
"There’s one mess hall on this base. It’s a small community. You get to know everybody. You can tell when somebody’s new. They got that look on their face," Taylor said.
Smaller meals like Christmas are important to show those new and old Marines how much they are valued.
"On smaller meals like Christmas, we can put in a little extra time so we can put out the best meal we can," Taylor said. "We don’t have the sexiest job in the Marine Corps but it’s one of the most important. Pilots can’t fly a plane on an empty stomach."