As the holiday season approaches, the crew aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) prepares to celebrate on deployment. Being away from home for the holidays can be challenging, but the Nimitz crew comes together as a family to make the holidays special and memorable.
In fact, Sailors assigned to Nimitz's food service division (S-2), are devoted to making life on deployment as comfortable and gratifying as possible for the upcoming Thanksgiving celebration.
"Thanksgiving can only be accomplished by the hard work and dedication of 159 culinary specialists, two Marine chefs, 137 food service attendants and eight Marine mess men," said Master Chief Culinary Specialist Stephen Boos, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "In total, a small army of 306 personnel [are] dedicated to bringing a small portion of a 'home for the holidays' feeling to our Nimitz family."
According to Culinary Specialist 1st Class Nora Velazquez, from Richmond, Virginia, Thanksgiving planning begins three to four months in advance. A few days prior, the food is taken out to thaw, and cooking begins the night before.
Thanksgiving is one of the largest meals prepared every year, along with Christmas and the Navy's birthday meal. Cooking such a large dinner for so many people is an all hands effort and can be very demanding, she said.
"Being in the kitchen can be really stressful," said Chief Culinary Specialist Tasia Penaranda, form Bridgeport, Connecticut. "It's also really fun because everyone comes together. We do our best and put our best foot forward to get the best food out to the crew. It sucks that we're away, but for some reason, the morale is always higher and everyone is always happier."
For this Thanksgiving meal, the Nimitz culinary team will prepare 3,000 pounds of turkey, all of which have been airlifted from the United States. Individual turkeys are also given names. Each year, one is saved for the blessing and decoration. This year's special turkey's name is Homeward Bound.
Along with the turkeys, 3,000 pounds of prime rib, 2,200 pounds of honey-baked ham, 2,500 pounds of potatoes and 4,500 pounds of sweet potatoes will be served. For dessert, there will be five types of pies: pumpkin, sweet potato, peach, cherry and apple. Sailors can also choose from four types of cheesecake: lemon, tuxedo, traditional and almond, and four types of cookies: chocolate chip, white chocolate macadamia nut, peanut butter and ginger snap.
"Putting a smile on everyone's faces and giving back to the crew is what gives us satisfaction," said Penaranda. "The planning is easy, but execution and timing are always the hardest."
Just as Sailors celebrate their family traditions at home, it is a Navy tradition for many Sailors to celebrate and be thankful during the holidays with their Navy family, due to being deployed, underway or on duty.
"It's three-fold," said Boos, when asked about his favorite part of preparing holiday meals while underway. "One is happiness. As a member of the food service community for over 20 years, the ability to put smiles on people's faces, remind them of home and make deployment just a little bit easier is our ultimate goal. The second is pride. The accomplishment of this meal will be discussed for years to come. S-2 is made up of dedicated professionals that have the ability to move mountains. This will be the second year in a row that Nimitz is underway for Thanksgiving. Last is the 'lean.' Nothing brings us more joy than looking around the mess decks and seeing all the people leaning to one side in their chairs. The 'I ate too much' lean. The rubbing of the belly is key as well."
The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled deployment in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. The U.S. Pacific Fleet has patrolled the Indo-Pacific routinely for more than 70 years promoting regional security, stability and prosperity.
As the Nimitz Strike Group's 2017 deployment nears completion, crew members are thankful to spend Thanksgiving with their Navy family and grateful to the CSs and Marine and Sailor food service attendants who work tirelessly, day in and day out.