The current three-shift, seven-days-a-week rotation I'm in has shifts arriving at 0600, 1400, and 2200. I'm in the second of those shifts (the "swing shift"). Our standard meal schedule has hour-long meals being served starting at 0500 (0600 on weekends in port), 1100, and 1700. When underway, and in special situations like this one, we add a "mid-rats" at 2300, consisting of something quickly prepared; in fact, at sea, it often consists of leftovers from the day's previous meals. Simply from looking at those times, you can probably figure out why I - and many of the other members of my shift - aren't happy with our ship's food service operation right now. We made our concerns known to the appropriate personnel, and it's been made clear that there'll be no alteration to the chow schedule. So, the day shift can eat just before they come in (or come in a bit earlier). The mid shift eats right before they relieve us of the watch. But while we're testing, and have everybody stuck in the engine room, the expectation is that we're to go the entire length of our shift - ten hours - without food. Not only that, the way it's going right now, I'm stuck in a tiny little room back there whether we're testing or not. And that presumes that there aren't any issues with the mid-rats. As it happens, two such issues made themselves known on Friday night. For one, word got around that the amount of food cooked would be insufficient to feed both the oncoming and offgoing shifts. For two, the the mid shift was very late to relieve (for reasons that need not be discussed here), and just before they did so, all the food that was out had been discarded. So they got nothing, and only a few of our guys ate.
As bad as the pangs of starvation are, what's worse is the lack of compensation for this denial of sustenance. Part of my monthly compensation is something called "basic allowance for subsistence," an untaxed stipend to be used to purchase food. In my case, nearly ninety percent of this BAS goes right back to the Navy, because my command provides meals (via the ship's galley). The meal deduction is lowered when a member is on leave or other temporary duty away from the area. But right now, I'm effectively being charged for one meal per day that I simply cannot eat. Now, anyone who knows me personally might be tempted to ask, "Matt, you don't eat the boat's food most of the time anyway, so what's the problem?" Such a question completely misses the point. When I choose to eat someplace other than the "Beale Street Cafe," I do so with the knowledge that I can get food on the ship and not pay out of pocket. Every member of the crew makes the same choice; I know of only one of our Sailors who ate all meals on the ship for any appreciable length of time. But when that choice is taken from me - and I'm not compensated for it - I've got a legitimate gripe. It's yet another thing that goes onto the long list of reasons why I won't give the Navy the one thing it asks of me - more of my life and my soul.