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Philadelphia Center Starts Early to Get Holiday Meals to Troops

Beth Reece, Special to American Forces Press Service

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Andy Zhang enjoys Thanksgiving dinner in 2007 with his 8-month-old son aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, along with more than 500 sailors and their families. U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Camarynn Miller

FORT BELVOIR, Va., Nov. 20, 2008 –

Army Spc. Christina Beerman favors her dad’s pies and mom’s stuffing, but the Christmas spread she ate at a dining facility in Iraq three years ago was enough to earn her praise for being “phenomenal.”

“They really went all-out, with turkey and dressing – all the traditional items, even lobster. I knew it took a lot of time and preparation for them to put something like that together,” said Beerman, who is assigned to Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Most holiday meals begin with a plan, from what to serve and grocery lists to timelines for defrosting and baking. So extensive are the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals served at military dining facilities that the work starts in April.

“Nobody is thinking about the holidays when we are,” said Ray Miller, director of subsistence for the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia. DSCP is part of the Defense Logistics Agency, which has its headquarters here.

Holiday menus are set by military service headquarters with the help of DSCP’s menu review board, then are passed to prime vendors for ordering in May and June. Air Force Airman 1st Class Trisha McDonald brings out pumpkin pie during a 2007 Thanksgiving holiday meal prepared for North Dakota Air National Guardsmen of the 119th Wing at Fargo, N.D. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp

Many ingredients for this year’s meals were already on hand at prime vendor facilities by September, Miller said. And bigger dining facilities began receiving high-volume items such as turkeys and steamship round beef roasts in October.

How much a dining facility receives in advance depends on storage space, but Miller said DSCP strives to get products delivered early enough that managers can place last-minute orders if necessary.

“Putting together these meals is quite the challenge, especially for some of the bigger dining facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, where holiday meals are served all day to accommodate servicemembers working different shifts,” he said.

Not all servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan will eat Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner in a dining facility. To make sure those stationed in remote areas still receive a traditional turkey dinner, DSCP purchased special editions of the new field meals called “Unitized Group Ration - Express."

“UGR-Es are self-heating, and one case can serve around 18 troops,” Miller said.

So serious is DSCP about making sure holiday meals are special for troops that when a dining facility manager at a forward operating base in the Middle East realized he forgot to order a crucial item last year, DSCP sent an emergency shipment.

“We had an emergency helicopter shipment sent to the forward operating base, and on the way there the helicopter was hit by small-arms fire. They still made the delivery, and fortunately, everybody returned safely,” Miller said. “But in the scheme of things, we almost lost lives trying to make a final delivery so troops would get their meals.”

Miller has never eaten in a dining facility during the holidays, but he said seeing news coverage of the president or secretary of defense eating with the troops always reminds him of the scope of DSCP’s mission. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Linda Ostler prepares a cornucopia for a Thanksgiving meal at the galley on Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jamar Perry

“You’re sitting there thinking, ‘I did that.’ The willingness my folks have to go the extra mile and make sure every shipment of every holiday item gets into these theaters is tremendous,” Miller said. “Beyond the fact that it’s our job to help feed troops, it’s also a way for us to show our respect to them.”

(Beth Reece works in the Defense Logistics Agency Public Affairs Office.)

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