Eating in action
July 14, 2012
By Hannah Van Ree
U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD – Mama’s home cooking is hard to replace, but the food service staff at Warrior Forge keeps Cadets well fed during their 29-day challenge.
“It’s a big process,” said Master Sgt. Stephen Och, head of food services at the Leader Development and Assessment Course.
“There is a lot of preplanning that a lot of people do before this mission even kicks off because it is such a big event. Alone there are 6,500 Cadets,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Steve Szakal, also in charge of food services throughout Warrior Forge.
The entire mission is contracted through Certain Victory Food Service, who signs out all the rations, said Och.
Once the food is ordered it is delivered to Troop Issue Subsistence Activity (TISA). After being delivered, the food is transported to all the cadre and regiment buildings, as well as the building where field feeding missions are based from, said Szakal.
All the food is transported in light tactical vehicles and left with the Regiment it is supplying.
When Cadets get hot meals delivered in the field it’s obvious who avoids the veggies and who loves mashed potatoes as they progress through the chow lines. Some portions of one type of food swell on their trays while others are nearly non-existent.
During meal time Cadets trade food almost more than they talk with one another. Some Cadets lie against their packs and eat, while over their heads food flies from one Cadet’s hand to another’s as they trade snacks.
Cadet Patrick Murphy from the University of Florida jokes that he has become a hoarder at the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC), a hoarder of food.
“I found myself collecting MRE pieces and by the time we got back from the field I think I had six or seven pieces of MREs all over my gear and my locker is a little messy,” said Murphy, whose favorite MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) is chicken and dumplings.
Cadets are supplied with three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“In garrison we usually do hot breakfast and hot dinner, with an MRE for lunch because we are usually out in the field. For the days we did sticks lanes and patrolling they gave us three MREs for the day and we were able to split them up anyway we wanted. Popping food in between lanes and eating as we could,” said Murphy.
“What food Cadets get is predetermined due to the MTS (Master Training Schedule). Some days they might get MREs, some days they might get food pushed out to the field site, or the initial days they are here they will get meals and then when they come back they’ll get AMA’s (a meal, an MRE and another meal),” said Szakal.
Szakal says all the food goes out hot, except for things like salad that is chilled or MREs.
“MREs have progressed through the years because we do constant quality assurance. I’ve been out on missions in the field where civilians will come out and do polls on what soldiers like. The sloppy joe is a good one I think, but it’s all personal preference,” said Och, who has been in food service for the Army his whole career.
Most Cadets prefer hot meals but they admit that even MREs at times can be delicious.
“My favorite MRE components, in order, are cornbread, vanilla pudding and granola. My favorite main meal is beef stew,” said Cadet Thompson from Wheaton College.
“I try to avoid MRE’s as best as I can and when I have to I eat mostly the side parts,” said Cadet Danielle Owens from the University of Central Missouri, whose favorite MRE is chicken alfredo or chili mac.
“I don’t eat a lot of the entrees actually, I trade them away,” said Murphy.
However, not every MRE is satisfying to Cadet’s taste buds.
Most Cadets have experienced or heard stories of the egg omelet MRE, which has been taken off the menu. “Horrible” is the widely used term to describe its taste and texture. But that is not the only MRE that goes unloved.
“The beef patty is pretty gross. It’s supposed to be like a burger I guess. You’re supposed to put it between two pieces of wheat bread but nobody does that,” said Murphy.
Some years at Warrior Forge there are trends in which food items are a hot commodity among Cadets.
“I’ve noticed that there is a big trend for the peanut butter. Peanut butter is pretty popular because it makes the wheat bread edible and it’s good on crackers,” explained Murphy.
Cadets get creative with the food they receive and sometimes attempt to recreate their favorite home cooked meals as best as they can.
“We recently discovered how to make key lime pie. Someone in another platoon told us and we tried it. Now everyone is trying to get that,” said Murphy.
The recipe for LDAC key lime pie is: lemon-lime beverage mix, non-dairy creamer, a packet of crackers and a little water, said Murphy.
“It surprisingly tastes like it,” said Murphy.
Approximately 370,000 MREs and 337,800 hot meals will be eaten by the end of Warrior Forge.