The U.S. military will deliver more Thanksgiving dinners to troops and support staff in Afghanistan than to those in Iraq and Kuwait for the first time since 2003 - - a milestone marked by increased logistical challenges.
Afghanistan’s rugged terrain requires about a quarter of the 160,000 Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing and sweet potato meals served in the country to be airlifted from dining halls to remote troop locations on Thanksgiving Day, said Rich Faso, a Defense Logistics Agency director of supply chain operations.
“There are places that we cannot even get trucks into that we routinely deliver by helicopter and fixed wing aircraft,” Faso said in a Nov. 18 phone interview. “The goal is for every military member in Afghanistan and Iraq and Kuwait to have a traditional turkey dinner.”
There are 270 delivery points for provisions in Afghanistan compared with 25 in Iraq and Kuwait, where 90,000 meals will be served by the military and its contractors, he said. The military feeds support staff and State Department employees in addition to troops.
The meals for the 97,000 troops in Afghanistan will be provided by Supreme Foodservice AG of Ziegelbrucke, Switzerland. Anham LLC, based in Dubai, provides food in Iraq and Kuwait.
The Pentagon awarded $1.34 billion to Supreme through the first 10 months of fiscal 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Anham received contracts valued at $333 million in that period.
U.S. troop levels in Iraq reached 166,300 in 2007. President Barack Obama announced in October that the remaining troops, about 39,000 at the time, would be home for the holidays.
‘Big Morale Booster’
The military’s Thanksgiving bill in Afghanistan is an estimated $1.5 million. Altogether, it costs $4 million to deliver Thanksgiving and Christmas meals -- which also feature rib eye steaks, shrimp, eggnog and pies -- to deployed troops in all three countries, according to statistics provided by the Defense Logistics Agency.
The military budgets $7 per person for a holiday meal, a 25 percent premium over the regular $5.60 dinner ration, Faso said.
“It’s a big morale booster,” said Carlos Garcia, who as an active-duty Marine master sergeant spent Thanksgiving 2005 in Fallujah, Iraq. “Everybody looked forward to it.” The dining hall was decorated with ice sculptures of eagles and dolphins, he said in a Nov. 18 phone interview.
Getting turkey to troops in Afghanistan isn’t easy. Preparations begin six months in advance to accommodate the 60-to 75-day travel time for those shipments from the U.S.
“We like to have it over there a couple of months in advance, just in case something happens,” Faso said.
The early planning helps the agency handle mishaps in the supply chain. This year, a 20,000-pound container of turkeys valued at about $50,000 on its way to Afghanistan had to be thrown out because temperature controls malfunctioned, he said. A special air-delivery order was arranged to replace the bad poultry in time.
For troops in locations too remote to receive a helicopter delivery of a hot meal on Thanksgiving, there’s a backup. It’s known as a “tray can” of turkey slices with a three-year shelf life.
“We actually have used those in the past,” Faso said. “This is probably the first year where we’re trying to minimize the use of that.”