By U.S. Sixth Fleet Public Affairs
Thanksgiving is commonly seen as an annual national holiday marked by cultural observances and a traditional meal including the preparation of a turkey for the family. However, on a 684-foot floating metal warship that can displace more than 25,000 tons of water, resides a family that needs more than one turkey to fill their stomachs.
This family is the crew of the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego (LPD 22), which consists of a combination of more than 800 Sailors and embarked Marines, assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), as they celebrated their Thanksgiving while deployed, Nov. 23, 2017.
Since Thanksgiving is one of the larger meals prepared for Sailors and Marines while on deployment, there was a considerable amount of planning, preparation and volunteer work required to make the holiday feel more like home.
“We had already started planning for this Thanksgiving meal before people were even thinking about what to wear for Halloween,” said Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Richard O’Connell, the supply department leading chief petty officer. “We started planning around three months ago and had a final menu a month prior to Thanksgiving.”
The physical preparation for the meal started more than two weeks prior, as culinary specialists began baking pies, cooking the sides, and gathering ingredients to prepare for the feast.
“The last few weeks we have been putting in extra time getting ready,” said Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Charlene Cruz, the supply department Thanksgiving meal watch captain. “As a team, we went out of the way to do all the little extra things like the ice sculpture, the carved fruit decorations, and the nice cake to make it a special occasion.”
The supply department understands that preparation plays a major role in ensuring the Thanksgiving experience feels similar to the one usually shared with family, so they put out the invitation for the crew to join them in coming together as one team to finish with the cooking of the meal.
“We sent out an email to the crew inviting them to come by the galley if they wanted to help with any of the preparations,” said O’Connell. “Having a little ownership makes it special for people and helps them see how much of a family the crew really is.”
Around 25 percent of the crew came out to help with serving, food preparation, and dish and pan cleaning.
“It was amazing to see many of the crewmembers volunteering, including the senior enlisted and officers from both Marines and Navy,” said Lt. j.g. Emily Gilpin, the food service officer aboard San Diego. “As much as we miss our family and friends back home, we have our friends, shipmates, and family right here on San Diego.”
With the help of the Sailors and Marines that volunteered, the San Diego culinary team prepared 800 pounds of turkey, 300 pounds of ham, 150 pounds of shrimp, and 100 pounds each of mashed potatoes and stuffing. The Thanksgiving meal also included cornbread, glazed carrots, green bean casserole, corn on the cob, and sweet potatoes.
Once the meal began, Sailors and Marines walked through the mess line and made their way to the mess decks with a max occupancy of a little over 150.
“Sailors and Marines sat shoulder to shoulder and not an extra spot was open,” said U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tim Tran. “It was crazy to see the flow but despite the small size of the mess decks, it ran well.”
All-in-all, San Diego’s Sailors and Marines were able to spend Thanksgiving with their Navy family and experience the feast put on by the culinary team, volunteers, and all the other individuals who assisted in the preparation and execution of the Thanksgiving meal and experience.
“The crew is happy and making the crew happy is our number one goal,” said Culinary Specialist 1st Class Amanda Hills. “We really appreciate all the assistance that we received and it shows how much the crew really cares.”
San Diego is deployed with the America Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 15th MEU to support maritime security and theater security cooperation in efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.
The America ARG and 15th MEU provide senior U.S. military leadership and partners with a flexible force which can rapidly respond to contingencies and crises within a region. With ships, aircraft, troops, and logistical equipment, the ARG/MEU is a self-contained and self-sustained task force capable of conducting a wide range of military operations including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.