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Petty Officer 1st Class Arnaldo Torres prepares table centerpieces for a semi-formal reception aboard the USS Emory S. Land off the coast of Gabon.

Petty Officer 1st Class Arnaldo Torres prepares table centerpieces for a semi-formal reception aboard the USS Emory S. Land off the coast of Gabon. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

ABOARD THE USS EMORY S. LAND — Hosting a dinner party for 48 people is challenging enough, but toss in ambassadors, dignitaries, USDA regulations, food two weeks old, and saunalike conditions in a ship’s galley, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Max Agpaoa was cooking under pressure.

Saturday night, Rear Adm. C. Van Mauney, director of Navy Europe Plans and Operations and Commander Submarines Allied Naval Forces South, hosted a semi-formal reception aboard the USS Emory S. Land, the La Maddalena, Sardinia-based ship midway through a two-month deployment to three West African nations of Cameroon, Gabon and Ghana.

Agpaoa’s planned menu of shrimp cocktail and either the prime rib or mixed seafood entree were products of what he had in the fridge.

“The menu is based on what we got before we started the deployment (on Jan. 25),” said Agpaoa. “It’s difficult. The food in Gabon is not approved for military use, and what I have is two weeks old. We have to make due and do the best with what we’ve got.

“A little of this and a little of that. It was like shopping, only in my own fridge.”

Usually, Petty Officer 1st Class Arnaldo Torres works in cargo, receiving shipments of food approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On Saturday, he was making flowers out of potatoes, carrots and radishes and decorating a heads of lettuce for centerpieces placed at tables hosting ambassadors to Gabon from countries such as Lebanon, Russia, Cameroon, Niger and Spain.

“This is what the Navy taught me,” joked Torres as he gingerly centered a toothpick-pricked potato flower in the lettuce head.

“This is very out of the ordinary for us,” said Chief Petty Officer Chad White said of preparing a lavish meal on the ship. “We’re not used to working in this heat and preparing such an important dinner.”


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