Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How's the chow in today's modern military?

The presidential election has repeatedly raised the question of when our troops may be coming home from Iraq. Left unasked is how our service men and women are being treated until then. How, for instance, is the food? We decided to find out, using a source we know and respect. His name is Bill Addison, associate editor of Nation’s Restaurant News’ sister publication, Home Channel News. These days he goes by Specialist Bill Addison, 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, New Jersey Army National Guard.

Bill was called up for a tour of duty that will soon take him from McGregor Base Camp in New Mexico to Kuwait and then Iraq. Hopefully he won’t lose more weight than the 17 pounds he’s already dropped—one soldier’s statement on the food served in MacGregor’s main dining service.

“Most of it is due to my inability to eat much of what is being served,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The food is horrendous.”

But there is a saving grace: Chains ranging from Blimpie to Fuddrucker’s periodically roll kitchens into the base to give the soldiers a taste of home. The Post Exchange also provides an alternative to the base’s main feeding operation, known in military parlance as the Dining Facilty, or DFAC. The Exchange features several proprietary brands that resemble streetside fast-food places, in trade dress as well as quality, Addison wrote.

Military feeders have proudly embraced both national and proprietary brands as an important morale booster. They say it provides the soldiers with a momentary trip back home, since they could be back on Fast-Food Row. Addison agrees.

But, he added, there are a few downsides to the trend.

For one thing, having a few brand-name restaurants to serve a sprawling base of hungry young people is going to result in DisneyWorld-scale lines. That means standing in the New Mexican sun for a considerable chunk of time to get a sandwich you might’ve been able to grab in seconds back in civilian life.

With the national brands, there’s also the issue of price. “$3.20 per slice and $8.50 for a hamburger can stretch a soldier’s
budget,” he wrote.

It can also prompt questions about the intentions of those amenity providers. While these services are indeed welcome, and a chance to get out of the DFAC once in a while, I cannot help [but] feel exploited by these companies,” Addison wrote.

And that applies not just to the consumer-brand restaurants on base. Addison noted that a major electronics retailer sends members of its well-known computer fix-it squad to McGregor to provide free assessments of the soldiers’ laptops. If the service men or women decide to follow the recommendations for repairs or upgrades, they have to pay.

As for the food, Addison stresses that you can’t qualify all base services on what he’s experiencing at McGregor. He’s spent nine years in the service, he said, and the quality has varied greatly, a function on the base and who’s operating it. At Ft. Dix, for instance, “the food was always pretty good.” And, he stresses, we’re obviously taking a survey of one person.

“Please remember that this is just one soldiers
opinion,” Addison wrote. “I recognize that we have it better of than in any previous war, and that any other countries military would be jealous of what is afforded to us.”

Bill promised to give us the lowdown on the foodservices when he’s in Iraq. Hopefully, that won’t be a long stay. And afterwards, when he’s back in his cubicles a few rows from mine, the burgers are definitely on me.

You can learn more about what Bill’s life is like at present by going here.

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