- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Those vexed over the prospect of wrestling a 22-pound turkey to the Christmas table should consider the Department of Defense.

Tomorrow, DOD will serve up 77,000 pounds of turkey to America’s troops in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. But that ain’t all.

The holiday menu will also include 50,000 pounds of beef, 91,000 pounds of ham, 87,000 pounds of seafood, 7,900 cans of cranberry sauce, 4,036 cans of sweet potatoes, 1,630 cans of eggnog and 29,000 pies, DOD says.

The tab for the day’s culinary festivities is about $1.5 million.

The Defense Logistic Agency’s main supply center in Philadelphia has been planning for the monumental dinner since July.

“While other people are planning their summer vacations and deciding what to put on the grill for July Fourth, we’re thinking turkey and mistletoe,” said spokesman Air Force Maj. David Selnick.

The military has been preoccupied with chow since the very beginning, however. The Second Continental Congress passed the first legislation that provided individual rations for soldiers back in 1775.

They received the following once a week: a pound of pork or fish, three pints of peas or beans, a half-pint of rice or corn meal and a pound of flour or baked bread. They also received a pint of milk and a quart of spruce beer or cider every day.

Logistics are little more complicated these days.

Battlefield dinners take a circuitous route. The meal components are initially prepared by stateside commercial food services, private contractors or the military itself, then transported by ocean freighter to 75 delivery points in Saudi Arabia, Oman and United Arab Emirates, among other locales.

The holiday food finally makes it to the troops via truck — easier said than done should turkey and trimmings be traveling through hostile territory, over bad roads or through lousy weather.

But food is a morale builder, according to Rich Faso, chief of the operational rations branch of the Philadelphia center.

Looking after “war fighters in Iraq, Afghanistan and anywhere else in the world is a capability that we are most proud of,” said Mr. Faso. “It is at times like this when troops are deployed that providing holiday food takes on a different spin.”

Troops in the field have not been overlooked. MREs — or “meals ready to eat” — are a continual work in progress for the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., the epicenter of DOD’s “combat feeding program.”

The service announced Friday that the Jamaican pork chop and something called “beef with mushrooms” have been dropped from the MRE roster — replaced by Cajun rice with sausage, vegetable manicotti and 22 other new selections.

“First-strike rations” are also under development at the center, in response to what DOD calls “ration stripping.” To lighten their load, deployed troops were tossing much of the nourishing food from their MREs and keeping the goodies, to the alarm of tactical planners.

The new, lighter-weight ration packs supply a day’s worth of food, but weigh just 21/2 pounds and are designed to “enhance physical performance and mental acuity,” the center says.

What’s on the front-line menu? A pocket sandwich, beef jerky, nuts, dried cranberries, applesauce, crackers and cheese, enriched beverage mix, caffeinated chewing gum and the “HooAH” bar — a high-carbohydrate fudge snack.

The rations are “based on what war fighters say they most frequently take with them when they’re on the go,” said DOD spokeswoman Janice Rosado.

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