Cultivating Afghanistan: Feeding an Army

In this segment of his series “Cultivating Afghanistan,” Reporter Doug Wissing chews on the matter of feeding an army…

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    Photo: Doug Wissing/ WFIU

    Soldiers increasingly prefer First Strike Rations, which have a day's meals in each package. Each pack includes such food as BBQ beef sandwich, cheese spread and crackers, energy bars and beef snacks, tuna, tortilla shells, caffeinated gum and beverage powders.

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    Photo: Doug Wissing/ WFIU

    The various components of an MRE, including a spoon and tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce.

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    Photo: Doug Wissing/ WFIU

    One of the vegetarian meals, which the soldiers scramble to avoid getting in the mixed boxes of MREs. This one is vegetarian manicotti, which, in the soldiers' view, is better than the dread omelette meal--the Old Maid of the MRE game.

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    Photo: Doug Wissing/ WFIU

    Sgt. Mjr. Hudson regaled the crowd with an overview of the first Thanksgiving, along with a plethora, perhaps even a surfeit, of turkey facts.

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    Photo: Doug Wissing/ WFIU

    Mr. Aziz is the proud owner of an Afghan bakery and restaurant on FOB Salerno. A large yellow sign reading, "Eat at Your Own Risk" is attached to a concrete barrier outside his building near Terp Village, where the interpreters live.

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    Photo: Doug Wissing/ WFIU

    Sgt. Richard Gutknecht gave DFAC food a thumbs-up.

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “An army travels on its stomach”?

The Agribusiness Development Team is no different and the team isn’t going hungry in Afghanistan.

The dining facilities, or DFACS, at Forward Operating Base Salerno’s offer astonishing variety considering the base’s remote location. At many meals, there are four different entrées, sidebars of ethnic dishes and fresh fruits and vegetables flown in from Dubai.

Some soldiers love the DFAC food, like Sergeant Richard Gutknecht:

“I think it’s wonderful, actually. Wide variety of food, particularly for being here on the FOB. I think it’s healthy. They post all of the calorie counts, so you have choices. Some of the guys complain about getting bored with it, but there is always plenty for me to eat. I can always have a salad, that kind of stuff,” Gutknecht said.

After months of DFAC food, other soldiers are less enthusiastic:

“It’s not impressive.”

“Feeds us.”

“It’s just pretty predictable that they’re going to have everything, the same thing, day in and day out.”

“If I see another yellow Gatorade, I think I’m going to puke.”

That’s sergeants Darvin Moore, Jared Kirkpatrick, Benjamin Fullenweider and Brendan Wilczynski. For officers with more…seasonin*…like ADT Executive Officer Lt. Col. Gary Thomas, try to take a fair look at the fare:

“They do a pretty good job of fixing it and changing it up here and there. Sometimes when supplies get a little low, it can be a little different. We could be eating MREs or what we used to have, T-rations,” Thomas said.

Ah, the legendary MREs—Meals Ready to Eat. Sergeant David Shaner says there’s a standard recipe for eating MREs…

“First thing we always do is find our favorites, cause there are many. This one is Spaghetti with Meatballs, number 20.”

And what is your favorite?

“My favorite was always the tuna.”

I had the Chili Mac. Actually, I thought it tasted fine.

“Chili Mac is one of my top five.”

It kind of reminded me of a dog food called Gravy Train. Do you remember that? I don’t know what Gravy Train tasted like, but the consistency….

“Now the first we would do, if we are going to eat it as a complete meal, is take out our little MRE heater,” Shaner said.

The MRE heater is actually just a plastic bag in which you place the entrée and some water. A chemical reaction heats the food. There’s a calorie-rich cornucopia of stuff in an MRE: fruit cobbler, cheese spread, potato sticks, coffee, powdered fruit drink, a heavy wheat bread and, Shaner says, some formidable crackers.

“You know, the crackers, you could just about shingle a roof with those bad boys. Last resort weapon,” Shaner said.

In this case, the MRE purports to be spaghetti.  After five minutes, the bag is opened, doused it with the MRE’s tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce and stirred.

“Doesn’t taste real bad.” “No, they’re not awful,” Shaner said.

One of the things that I have consistently heard about MREs is that they have a legendary ability to stop you up.

“Yeah.”

Can you speak to that?

“Yeah, they absolutely do.”

And the food is also used as a reward for soldiers putting their lives in danger.  At one meal, following an attack the previous night, a special treat…

“We’re authorized ice cream tonight. Because we had rockets fired at us last night.”

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