News story

Commando chefs keep Marines on the go in Sangin

Working as some of the myriad 'backroom' specialists that allow Marines operating out of Forward Operating Base Jackson in Sangin, Afghanistan, to get on with their daily work are a team of Commando chefs.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Corporal Ian Dixon (left) and Private Scott Gordon prepare a meal in Forward Operating Base Jackson, Sangin

Corporal Ian Dixon (left) and Private Scott Gordon prepare a meal in Forward Operating Base Jackson, Sangin [Picture: LA(Phot) Si Ethell, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

The team of six chefs cater for the several hundred people living in the Forward Operating Base, providing them with three square meals a day.

The catering team actually consists of four Royal Marines, one Royal Marines Reservist and one Army chef.

They are responsible for feeding all the members of 40 Commando Royal Marines, all attached ranks, all the Afghan interpreters and all the locally employed Afghan civilians.

40 Commando took over responsibility for the Sangin Area of Operations from 3rd Battalion The Rifles last month.

Their role is to continue to provide security to the region, mentor the Afghan National Police, partner the Afghan National Army, and enable the continuation of reconstruction projects in the area.

With so many mouths to feed it can be a tough job for the chefs, especially with the temperatures beginning to rise as the sweltering Afghan summer approaches.

The temperature outside is already in the mid-thirties, and rising fast. However, in the galley the temperature is much higher; in the height of the Afghan summer, when it’s around 55 degrees Celsius outside, the galley can be as hot as 72 degrees!

Marine Ian Williamson

Marine Ian Williamson [Picture: LA(Phot) Si Ethell, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

One of the chefs, Marine Ian Williamson, says stoically:

I drink a lot of water. At least three litres a day.

As well as working in extreme heat, long hours are also the lot of a chef in Afghanistan.

A typical day for the chefs means getting up at 0430hrs and preparing breakfast. There is always a full cooked breakfast, porridge, pancakes and canned fruit cocktail.

For lunch there are four main choices on offer with vegetables, and fruit bars and packets of mixed nuts.

The chefs usually have a couple of hours off before preparation for dinner begins. For dinner there are three options, but also a soup starter and dessert. At around 2030hrs the chefs are finishing off for the day.

Despite the challenges, the job does have its rewards.

For Marine Williamson, a reservist who works as a Customs Officer back in the UK, it’s the change from his normal routine:

It’s absolutely, totally different from my day job but I’m definitely still loving it,” he said.

Settling in was difficult at first - acclimatising while spending all day on your feet. But coping with the heat is not a problem now although it’s only going to get hotter.

For Corporal Ian Dixon, a veteran of two previous tours of Afghanistan, it is the opportunity to create something special for those working hard in the base:

The best bit of the job is when you get the opportunity to make something nice, when you’ve got the ingredients and people really appreciate it.

Although it can be pretty frustrating when you have run out of crucial ingredients for a dish you have to make - for instance making beef stroganoff without cream!

Published 19 May 2010