News

Improved food service raises morale in Iraq

13 Apr 2006 | Lance Cpl. Stephen J. Holt

Life becomes simple while serving in a combat zone. Trips to multi-story malls for designer clothing are replaced by quick stops at an improvised convenience store for green undershirts. Service members watch movies on small, portable DVD players instead of large-screen cinemas.

One thing that hasn't been compromised is the quality of food.

"Marines fight on their stomachs. They can go days without showering, but they can't go days without chow," said Warrant Officer Joseph C. Brown, 1st Marine Logistics Group food service officer.

Marines here at this forward operating base near the Jordanian and Syrian borders employ a versatile food service system to ensure their fellow service members stay well fed.

The Field Food Service System replaces an entire kitchen like the ones found at dining facilities on larger bases.

Set up in a renovated building previously used by Saddam Hussein's army, the FFSS here provides a welcome relief from eating the military's equivalent to a brown bag lunch - the Meal, Ready to Eat.

The MREs come with individually packaged crackers, peanut butter, candies and main courses that are heated in a water-activated plastic sleeve. If troops are in a rush, the MREs can be eaten cold.

"One very nice perk is coming to a hot chow and not having to eat an MRE after being on the road all day. It's definitely a morale booster when you get to fill your stomach up," said Army Pfc. Chris Clayton, infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 115th Infantry Regiment and native of Frederick, Md.

Another option service members have while away from main bases is tray rations - precooked food portions that feed roughly 18 servings per pan and are reheated by boiling water.

In comparison to MREs and tray rations, the FFSS offers a greater variety of food and facilitates cooking in greater quantity.

Tray rations can only be reheated in small amounts but the FFSS is capable of feeding 850 people in four hours with selections ranging from General Tso Chicken, spaghetti and meatballs, and cheese omelets, among others, said Brown.

"There is more of a variety of food you can serve (with the FFSS)," said Staff Sgt. Leann E. Dixon, mess hall officer in charge at Camp Korean Village.

The system also reduces the chance of a service member getting sick because of food poisoning.

"(The FFSS) is a more effective way of cooking, especially in the field. The contamination factor goes down because it is enclosed," said Dixon, a 35-year-old native of Fort Myers, Fla.

The FFSS, which requires 16 people to run, consists of three shipping containers - two for cooking and one for sanitizing the food preparation equipment - and can utilize local food to customize meals.

Service members eating the food have quickly become accustomed to having good food and have high praise for the cooks preparing the meals.

"I think they're doing a fantastic job and I can taste the quality of food. They had chicken parmesan one night and it was really good," said Clayton as he smiled over his hot plate at the Korean Village chow hall.

For the cooks using the system in Iraq, it provides them with a kitchen space that rivals those found in the United States.

"It's like being back in a galley in the rear. It's more convenient and you can feed so many more people (compared to tray rations). There's more equipment (to use), it's larger, and heats (the food) better," said Cpl. Kurt Abarquez, a 21-year-old from Sacramento, Calif., and a cook with 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division.

The FFSS has another benefit besides providing better chow to service members - it lets the food service Marines practice their culinary art with more than 20 different meals to choose from.

"The cooks are cooking rather than reheating prepackaged food and are capitalizing (on) the skills they were taught," said Brown, a 35-year-old native of Cullman, Ala.

As Marines continue to use the FFSS, service members operating at this remote base will continue getting a meal where they need it most - in the combat zone.
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