The Army and the Navy are rivals in football, but when it comes to food safety, both services play on one winning team.
The U.S. Army Public Health Command's Ship Rider program deploys an Army E-5 or E-6 veterinary food inspection specialist to select Military Sealift Command combat stores ships to inspect food shipments. Through a Memorandum of Agreement with the MSC, this service is provided during scheduled deployments and specific exercises.
The recently developed MOA requires that Army veterinary food inspectors provide food safety, food defense and quality assurance inspection as their primary job function aboard vessels. The inspectors are responsible for evaluating all subsistence to include ship's store health and comfort products at time of receipt as well as inspecting them for identity, count and condition. If asked, they provide training to ship's personnel.
Once on board the ship, the enlisted Soldiers also train food service personnel in sanitation and conduct inspections of operational rations, according to Harold Sheridan, senior quality assurance specialist at the Public Health Command District--Fort Eustis in Norfolk, Va.
Another critical task is the ALFOODACTs, or All Food and Drug Activities, part of Department of Defense Hazardous Food and Non-Prescription Drug Recalls Program. The DOD ALFOODACT Hazardous Food Recall Program is reviewed and monitored during these deployments.
"The Ship Rider program started here roughly around 1996," according to Sheridan. "This program originated from a request from Military Sealift Command, due to the excessive financial loss of subsistence items while they were deployed."
As part of the MSC team, the Soldiers learn to do some "sailoring" as well.
"Soldiers are assigned to the ship for the duration of the assignment that usually lasts for three to six months," said Sheridan. "These Soldiers participate in all crew drills, training, and duties as would any sailor on the ships."
PHCD--Fort Eustis assigns Soldiers to work with the Military Sealift Command Atlantic's area of responsibility which includes all western Atlantic water space off the coastlines of Canada, the United States and Mexico; all waters surrounding Central and South America and the islands of the Caribbean; and the waters roughly defined as those in the Norwegian, Greenland, Labrador and Caribbean seas.
Sheridan and the district food safety officer act as shore-based resources for the deployed food inspectors, providing guidance, updates and a link to the Army family as needed.
"We did Navy stuff, from learning crew procedures and off-limits zones to ship inspections, but our primary duty was to perform our food safety and food defense missions," explained Staff Sgt. Edward Franco, food inspector from PHCD--Fort Eustis who deployed for three months on the USNS Wally Schirra. "I looked at more than 3,500 pallets of food during the deployment," said Franco.
"I inspected pallets of subsistence items worth about $3 million--each pallet weighed about 400 pounds," said Sgt. Ismenio Lampe, also from PHCD--Fort Eustis, who returned from a six-month deployment last November.
"We visited 10 ports in Spain, Italy, Greece and Africa," said Lampe, who served on the USNS Robert E. Peary. "Once food inspections in port were complete, we were allowed 'liberty' (leave from the ship) during the rest of our time in port."
On the other side of the globe, PHCD--Western Pacific sends veterinary food inspectors out with the Navy's 5th Fleet.
Sgt. Julio Trevino, Ship Rider non-commissioned officer-in-charge, and Sgt. Larry Arnold, both from PHCD--WESPAC, Naval Support Branch, Guam, explained that they joined their ships in Singapore and visited multiple ports in the Middle East while approving, picking up and accepting subsistence for delivery to other ships at sea.
"My mission was to inspect all of the food and food storage areas on my supply ship. This ship provided food for two carriers, two tankers, three destroyers, and several other naval and marine operating ships. I made sure the food they received was safe," said Arnold.
"I conducted receipt inspections of all food being loaded on and off the ship, inspected all storage areas for proper temperature, and managed a shelf-life program onboard the ship resulting in zero losses as a result of expired food," explained Trevino. "I also worked with the medical ships officer in joint sanitation inspections of the galley. In total I inspected over $3.2 million of subsistence that was loaded to customer ships."
Sheridan explained that the average monetary value of subsistence items procured for these types of vessel is $500,000--$750,000. The food items procured are paid for under Defense Capital Working Fund by the Defense Logistics Agency in Philadelphia, which means the food does not belong to the Navy until a customer (ship) places an order. The inspectors perform daily wholesomeness and serviceability inspection of those items that remain in storage. They also assist in foreign ports to identify an authorized supplier for food.
But being on a Navy ship poses interesting challenges for a single Army Soldier.
"Things change daily, and you must be ready on a moment's notice to be there when they need to quickly supply a ship," said Arnold. "The duties themselves are not that different from our normal day-to-day routine. The only thing different is the environment and the people that surround you."
"At times it was hard to adjust to the Navy way of life, but with time it was great. Everyone onboard knows you as 'Sarge' and wants to know everything about the Army," explained Trevino. "I had the opportunity to work with some sailors and even receive a Navy skills badge."
"Trevino extended his deployment and volunteered for the extra work and study required to earn the Navy Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist badge," explained Capt. Frank DeCecco, veterinarian in charge of the Guam Branch.
The Soldiers all enjoyed the experience and agreed there was a sense of pride being in an Army uniform and providing important services to the Navy by performing their military occupational skills. They also agreed that the support from their team members at home was an important part of performing their mission.