You want to serve your country. You want to learn food service, but you don't want to slap slop on a tray. Have no fear: U.S. Navy culinary specialists prepare and serve meals that rival that of the finest restaurants. You learn food service and food service management, from procuring the basics to cooking and serving the finished product ashore, at sea and -- if you enlist for five years -- under the sea.
Enlistment and Boot Camp
If you choose to become a Navy culinary specialist, you must meet the physical requirements, have a combined score of at least 88 on the paragraph comprehension-word knowledge and arithmetic reasoning sections of the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery test and have a love affair with food. You must be a U.S. citizen and have a high-school diploma or a GED. After you go through the enlistment process, you'll spend eight weeks in Navy boot camp, located at Naval Station Great Lakes in a suburb of Chicago. After boot camp, you're transferred to the military's Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, at Fort Lee, Virginia.
At the JCCoE, you have eight weeks of training. You learn cooking techniques, small-quantity baking, mess deck operations and cooking in the field. Your learning environment will vary from the classroom to work in a kitchen laboratory where you put what you've learned into practice. You'll also move to the field for garrison cooking -- where you learn cooking in field conditions. This type of cooking -- think of it as high-intensity cooking for a group of rowdy campers -- is the sort a culinary specialist might do in support of U.S. Marines when not in active combat.
Tour of Duty
After school, you're assigned to sea duty. The length of your first assignment depends on whether you enlisted for four years or five. If you enlisted for four years, your tour of sea duty is between 52 and 54 months long. You won't spend 54 months at sea -- "sea duty" simply means that you're assigned to a Navy ship that may spend up to eight months at sea before returning to its home port. If you enlisted for four years, you'll find yourself aboard a destroyer, a guided missile frigate, a cruiser or an aircraft carrier. Submarine service requires you to enlist for five years and attend the submarine school at Groton, Connecticut, before you go to sea. The sea duty tour is followed by 36 months of shore duty.
During your tour of sea duty, you'll find yourself under the tutelage of experienced culinary specialists in a ship's or boat's -- regardless of their size, submarines are always called boats -- galley. You'll learn to prepare many of the 967 recipes found in the the Navy's recipe book. As a culinary specialist, you aren't just a cook. You estimate how much food is required, you help the unit's supply officer prepare orders for food, you take delivery of food and run food storage. You might even be in charge of quarters ashore or afloat or, like the "chosen few" among U.S. Navy culinary specialists, find yourself assigned to the White House Mess.
- Navy Cyberspace: Culinary Specialist
- U.S. Army Quartermaster School: Joint Culinary Center of Excellence - Basic Food Service Training Divison
- U.S. Army Quartermaster School: Joint Culinary Center of Excellence - Index of Recipes, Armed Forces Recipe Service - United States Navy NAVSUP Publication 7
- The White House Museum: Navy Mess and Ward Room
Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.