How I became a Navy Cook
By: Garland Davis
After boot leave, I reported to NAS Lemoore for a one-year “special tour” of shore duty. I was a member of the initial crew or ‘Plank Owner” of the station. There were a number of us just out of boot. We became mess cooks and coop cleaners. I spent my first three months as a mess cook and the subsequent three months in the CPO quarters as a compartment cleaner.
I had requested to become a cook while mess cooking. My request was approved with the condition that a vacancy exists in the Commissaryman staffing. Being a newly commissioned base, all billets had been filled and no such opening existed.
I was advised by one of the cooks to be persistent. He advised me to take out the CS 3&2 course and do it. He told me that this would show that I was serious and had a legitimate desire to become a Commissaryman. I completed the course with an almost perfect score. I submitted another request to go to the galley and was told that I could go back as a mess cook. The galley CPO, learning that I had civilian experience as a baker and because I had completed the course, assigned me to a bakeshop watch, although I wasn’t officially a striker.
I had completed all the courses for SN and Military Requirements for PO 3&2. I had also completed the Practical Factors for advancement as high as CS2. I went to I&E (Information and Education) Office and requested the CS1 &C course. I was an undesignated SN. The PO3 told me that I could not take the course because I was just a Seaman. I knew the I&E CPO from my days as CPO coop cleaner. I asked to see the Chief. The Chief listened to my request and told the PO3 to order the test. He said that if a member had completed all the other requirements, they should not be restricted from studying a rate.
As my current tour as a mess cook was ending, I requested to strike for cook again. The request came back approved by the station XO with a notation to transfer me to the Subsistence Division. It also included the statement: “I admire SN Davis’ initiative; completing requirements for the CS rate and advancement as well as his persistence.”
The same day I officially became a cook striker, I completed a dream sheet for my next duty. I requested duty in San Diego, Hawaii and San Francisco (I hadn’t yet learned the joys of WestPac). A few weeks later, I learned that BUPERS dropped me to ServPac for assignment to a ship. My fellow cooks told me that this meant that I would get orders for a supply ship. I admit disappointment. I had envisioned a stately cruiser or a dashing destroyer. My orders eventually arrived for USS Vesuvius AE-15, home ported in Port Chicago, California. My friends in the galley were either telling me that ammo ships were good duty or how fucked up they were.
My checkout sheet came and I started the rounds getting initials ending at the Personnel Office where I received an envelope with my records and a set of orders telling me to report to USS Vesuvius at Pier 62 in San Francisco. The ship was in a yard overhaul. I had forty-eight hours to report.
Before leaving the galley, the Chief CS told me that he had made sure that a recommendation for CS3 was in my record. He said that it might help me get into the galley aboard ship. He also told me that since I was non-designated, I might end up in deck force regardless, especially on an UNREP ship.
I took the Greyhound bus from Hanford, CA to San Francisco. The Shore Patrol booth at the SF bus station directed me to a bus stop where I could take the Hunter’s Point Bus which would drop me a half block from Pier 62. I caught the bus and was very nervous as we neared the stop. There was a sailor on the bus with a Vesuvius patch. I followed him to the shipyard gate, where they checked my orders and called the Quarterdeck for an escort. I remember walking down the pier alongside the ship. The noise was deafening. Needle guns and chipping hammers were resounding everywhere, it seemed.
Trying to remember the proper way to board a ship, I nervously saluted the stern of the ship and requested permission to board. A Petty Officer took the envelope with my records and escorted me to the Personnel Office. A BM1, wearing a Master at Arms Badge came to fetch me. I learned later that he was the First Division LPO and stood Duty MAA. He escorted me and my seabag to a berthing compartment, pointed out a locker and a top bunk, gave me a fartsack, a blanket and a sheet. He told me to stow my gear, make up my bunk and he would return in a bit and take my peacoat and seabag to their respective lockers. He also told me that I would be in deck force, to change to dungarees and get ready to go to work.
I think my head was spinning. This was all coming at me so fast. The BM1 returned and took me up to a deck force gear locker on the main deck, gave me a chipping hammer, showed me what to do with it and left me in there to chip all the paint off the rear bulkhead. It is amazing that I am not stone deaf today from the cacophony of hitting a metal bulkhead in a space as small as a coat closet.
He eventually came to tell me that the workday was over. He told me to get into clean dungarees. He said after the yard period the Uniform of the Day would be whites or blues after working hours but dungarees were fine in the yards. A galley barge was moored aft of the ship. He told me the galley hours and left me on my own for the day. I went to the barge for supper. I tell you, I sure wanted to be behind that chow line with the cooks. That was a big ship; I hoped that I wasn’t expected to chip at paint for the rest of my days.
When I got back to the berthing compartment, I met some of the men in the division. A cook at Lemoore had cautioned me about some of the people who would approach me. He told me that often the fuck-ups were looking for company because the others would not have anything to do with them. I remembered this warning. As an LPO and Leading Chief, I always tried to help new men meet the good people.
No one had said anything about liberty or a liberty card. It didn’t matter. I had no idea where to go anyway. About 20:00 the BM1 brought my seabag and told me to pack. I was moving to the supply berthing. I was going mess cooking. He led me with my gear to the aft berthing and introduced me to a CS3, told me he would see me on deck in three months.
Talking with the CS3, I told him that I worked in the bakery at Lemoore, was recommended for CS3, and wanted to come to the galley permanently. He explained the ship’s policy that all non-designated personnel went to either Deck or the Fireroom for at least six months before they could strike for a rate.
I went to work on the Galley Barge the following morning. The CS1 came rushing in asking me if I was the SN that had completed the CS 1&C course. I told his yes. He asked if I wanted to strike for cook. I told him yes. He told me that we would be moving the galley back to the ship in a week and coming out of the yards the following week. He said wait until we were back at Port Chicago and put in a chit to strike. He said that in the meantime, I was assigned to work with the cooks in the galley.
I was working washing pots and pans and doing cleaning duties in the galley with the cooks after we moved back aboard. The bakeshop, located just forward of the galley was not in use. The ship was ordering pastries and desserts from a civilian bakery while in port. One of the cooks said it didn’t matter, the baker had transferred and they didn’t have anyone else who could bake.
The CS1 told me to submit my chit to strike for cook. He told me not to get my hopes up. The XO was adamant that every non-designated SN serve for at least six months on deck force before permitting them to strike for a rate other than BM.
The following Saturday morning, after the bakery delivery, the CS3 watch captain was upset because the scheduled Apple Pies for Sunday evening dessert hadn’t been delivered. Actually, the Chief had forgotten to order it. I told him that I could bake pies. He sent me into the bakeshop and I baked the pies.
Monday morning, the CSC comes storming into the galley asking for me. He was carrying one of the pies that I had baked. He asked me if I had baked it. I told him yes and asked if something was wrong with it. He told me no and asked where I had learned to bake. I told him that I had gone to a bakery vocational school and had worked in the Bakeshop at Lemoore. He told me that I was now the ship’s baker. I told him I am a mess cook. He told me that he was on his way to talk to the Supply Officer about my status and left with the pie in his hand.
I had been the baker for about a month, when the Supply Officer came into the Bakeshop and told me to go shift into the Uniform of the Day and come to the Supply Office. We were going to see the XO about my request to strike for cook.
I rushed down to berthing, grabbed my razor, washed my face, shaved and changed into my best undress blues.
The CSC, the SO and I went up to the XO’s stateroom. He called us in, told us that he was considering my request. He had my record open on his desk. He asked the Chief and the SO about my performance and behavior. He looked through my record, appeared to think for a minute, and started to tell me that although I had been doing an excellent job in the galley he was not going to approve my request because of the ship’s policy that all non-rated SN spend at least six months in Deck Force.
At this point, there was a knock on his door and the ship’s CO stuck his head in the door and asked, “What’s up XO?” The XO explained to the CO that he was counseling SN Davis on the ship’s policy about strikers. The CO turned to me and asked, “What are you doing now?” I told him that for the last month I have been the ship’s baker. Surprised, he asked, “Did you bake those breakfast rolls this morning?” I told him that I had. He turned to the XO and said, “We have had some excellent bakery products recently. I think we can make an exception in this case.” He turned back to me and said, “SN Davis, you are now a cook striker and the ship’s baker.”
And that’s how I became a cook.