Check out this photograph above. It shows the modest chow hall at Combat Outpost Taghaz, a small combat outpost in Afghanistan where I lived with Marines for about a week last fall while gathering information for a couple of stories. The adviser team shared the base with a platoon from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, which provided overwatch security in the region.
I bring this up after reading today that some service members at Camp Leatherneck, the Marine Corps’ largest base in Afghanistan, are angry that commanders have apparently decided to dump the midnight ration service and 24-hour sandwich bar in its chow halls. It plans to replace them with prepackaged Meals, Ready to Eat, Lt. Col. Cliff Gilmore, a Marine spokesman, told NBC News.
The decision won’t be popular at Leatherneck with everyone. NBC News quotes an email one Marine wrote his wife as an example.
“This boils my skin,” the email said. “One of my entire shifts will go 6.5 hours without a meal. If we need to cut back on money I could come with 100 other places. “Instead, we will target the biggest contributor to morale. I must be losing my mind. What is our senior leadership thinking? I just got back from flying my ass off and in a few days, I will not have a meal to replenish me after being away for over 9 hours.”
That’s one side of the debate. The other side will come from Marines living on small bases with chow halls like the one pictured above. In many of those locations, Marines have never had three hot meals per day. In some, they’ve had just one. There also is no ice cream, salad bar, refrigerated soda and other creature comforts on a lot of those smaller bases. Instead, there’s usually one dutiful lance corporal or corporal, doing the best he can to put together a decent meal each night for his fellow Marines on base.
As someone who has bounced around all over Helmand province in the last few years, I can understand some disappointment with meal services being cut back at Leatherneck. In particular, for those working overnight, having a sandwich readily available was certainly a sweet deal.
The outrage expressed in some corners here seems a bit over the top, though. Seriously, “I will not have a meal to replenish me”? Infantrymen all over Afghanistan have been hanging in there just fine with MREs in off hours for years. For the time being, there’s also the massive PX store on Leatherneck, which is stocked with snacks of all kind and probably can offer some relief.
No one is going to starve anytime soon.