Dinner at 1600.
Try being one of the 50 mess management specialists working at one the most famous addresses in the world. While you might expect to see a more senior Sailor working in this prestigious position, Mess Management Specialist 3rd Class Ivan Saez does his job with the professionalism, dedication and attention to detail of a seasoned veteran.
MS3 IVAN SAEZ'S DAY BEGINS MUCH LIKE that of every other shore-based Sailor.
He takes a shower, brushes his teeth and puts on his uniform. After a quick bite to eat, he kisses his wife and, with some coaxing from his carpool's horn, heads out the door. But, that is where his normal Navy day ends.
Sometimes, as he walks through the black wrought iron, high-security gates, Saez wonders how he ever got a great job like this. He swipes his security badge, says hello to the highly armed guards who lurk in the shadows and then walks into the west entrance of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. -- the White House.
Saez, if you haven't already guessed, is one of about 50 Navy mess management specialists working in the White House. Cooking for some of the most powerful people in the United States -- only feet away from the leader of the free world -- can be a little stressful, but Saez can deal with it. After all, it was dealing with pressure and standing out in the fleet environment that got him selected for presidential duty in the first place.
"When you see the President, it's like, 'Wow! That's my boss,'" said Saez. "I never thought I would be working at the White House when I joined the Navy."
But that's where the New York City-native has found himself; at the Navy White House Mess, located in the West Wing just under the Oval Office. The mess, is where, if you are important enough, you can dine with the Commander in Chief on your left and movie stars and sports heroes on your right. But getting on the maitre d's guest list at Saez's "restaurant" is not as easy as it would be at your local Olive Garden. You have to either be an upper-level White House staffer or a guest.
Saez came to the White House in March 2001, after his first assignment on USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).
"I loved it in San Diego' said Saez. "There were just so many great people there who were willing to take a young guy out of "A' School and teach him what they knew." During his time on Stennis, Saez seized the opportunity to stand out. As a junior MS eager to work hard, Saez made a name for himself that would eventually pay off; though he never dreamed how well.
After spending a few months in the crew's galley, Saez began to show his maturity and leadership potential and was moved to the position of watch captain of the bake shop, where, although he was a seaman recruit, he was placed in charge. This is where Saez honed his skills and learned to work side-by-side, as an equal, with shipmates of all ranks.
It was not long after this hard-charger's move to the bake shop that he kicked it up a notch and found himself working as the night baker for Commander Carrier Group 6, where he was responsible for the admiral's dinner and staff midrals.
At that point, Saez looked around and saw that he had already set himself apart from the rest of the pack. Just a seaman apprentice, his hard work paid off and he became one of the top MSs on the ship. Things just couldn't get any better -- or so he thought.
One day, while Saez was attending a "C" school on record keeping, he heard something about recruiters coming to the school to set up interviews for people interested in serving at the White House. He checked it out and got an interview. Since he had just been meritoriously advanced to petty officer 3rd class, and had a great service record, Saez found he was eligible for the opportunity of a lifetime.
After a long process of interviews and background checks, Saez finally got word that he had what it takes to become a member of the White House Mess. "When I found out I got accepted, I was ecstatic. I called my parents, and they were so happy for me," said Saez. This was Saez's chance to become a piece of history in the making.
The White House Mess can trace its origins as far back as 1880, when Navy stewards were charged with the task of providing food-service to then President Rutherford B. Hayes aboard the presidential yacht USS Dispatch (PY 8).
MSs began serving the president ashore in 1942 when Franklin D. Roosevelt established the presidential retreat, "Shangri-La" in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains. This was later renamed "Camp David" by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, to honor his grandson.
Navy MSs didn't actually come to the White House until 1951, while President Harry S. Truman was in office. RADM Robert L. Dennison, naval aide to the President, suggested that there should be an officer's mess at the White House.
After careful planning and a search for top Navy chefs, the White House Mess was established June 11, 1951.
Since the Truman years, the job of the White House mess management specialist has evolved to handle all food service needs for the Commander in Chief and his staff, at home and abroad.
"We provide world-wide food service security for the president," said LT Frank Fuller, director of White House Food Services. "If the President goes to London, we will have people there ahead of time, scouting out the places where he will be dining," Fuller added.
If the food a host nation is serving isn't appropriate, Navy mess specialists like Saez will be there to prepare a meal for the Commander in Chief.
You might think working for the leader of the free world could be intimidating, but the environment and the job requirements don't provide a lot of "face time" with the President.
"Our goal is for the President not to know we're here," said Saez. "It's an 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind' thing. He has more important things to worry about," he added.
Everyone in the White House Mess knows that the job has to get done and it doesn't matter what their rank is.
"This is one of the few places you'll find a senior chief vacuuming the carpet;' joked MSCS Tony Siack, as he cleaned up after lunch. "But that's what you have to do to help in the team effort, like so many other places in the Navy."
With a job as important as his, things may seem a bit strange for Saez when he passes through those security gates at the end of the day. It's at this point that his day once again becomes like that of the average Sailor.
His wife of one year, Judith, pick him up and together they battle the D.C. traffic to their modest apartment in a nice Alexandria, Va., neighborhood.
Finally, after a long day of short orders and dishwashing, the 22 year old can relax on the couch and play some video games. Free from the high profile world of his day, he can now kick back and take a breather.
That is, until he hears those infamous four words: "Honey, what for dinner?"
Ingle is a photographer's mate assigned to All Hands.
RELATED ARTICLE: Experiencing firsthand the grand architechture of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House is one of the many perks of working at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
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|Title Annotation:||naval Mess Management Specialists on duty in White House|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2001|
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