The heart of the crew
Every inch of the stainless steel counters are utilized to chop vegetables, prepare pizza toppings and fry chicken wings. The cooks move and work together like a finely tuned, well-oiled machine in the galley aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88). They joke and sing along with every style of music, played from a Bluetooth speaker hanging overhead, from old country to underground rap.
A stack of freshly baked pizza crusts takes up one of the counters. The culinary specialist tastes his creation and adds more spices. Finally, the sauce is complete and ready for crust. Every single cookie sheet is out and ready for pizza.
The silver roll-up doors on the mess line remain closed, but muffled music and singing can be heard in the dimly lit passage way between the galley and mess deck. The crew understands that culinary specialists are hard at work preparing supper.
Culinary specialists (CS), who receive extensive training in culinary arts, hotel management and other areas in the hospitality industry, are responsible for all aspects of shipboard mess decks, dining and shore duty living areas. They also provide food service catering and hospitality services for admirals, senior government executives and the White House Mess for the president of the United States. Ask almost any Sailor, and he or she will say CSs are vital in maintaining high crew morale on not only ships, but in construction battalions and on every shore base.
Indeed, the rate has a very deep connection to the morale aboard ships. CSs have three roles in the Navy: They are responsible for supporting physical health and fitness, building morale and providing occasions for socializing. CSs also promote camaraderie and mitigate boredom during long deployments by supporting special events with food.
"CSs are definitely the heart of the crew, because when you see someone come through the line and they're happy about the product they tasted, it looks good and it literally made their day, it makes our day," said Culinary Specialist 1st Class Patricia Miller, food service division leading petty officer, assigned to USS Preble. "We just made the whole crew better just by the product we put out. I think that's a big deal. I would say we play a highly significant role in that people having a bad day can come through the line and it will be something their mom used to make all the time. They'll eat it and it will take them back to a place of peace and they will be happy for the rest of the day. And we'll actually hear about it all day. That one product that just literally turned their whole day around. It's a good feeling. It's a real good feeling."
It's all about reminding Sailors of home. In fact, Senior Chief Culinary Specialist LaDonna Tillery, Preble's leading culinary specialist, actually teaches her junior CSs the rate by comparing it to throwing a dinner party.