New crop of Army food trucks to serve up healthy, fast meals for more soldiers

By Nancy Benecki Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Public Affairs

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Going to a trendy food truck for a breakfast sandwich, a cheeseburger with “the works,” or a fresh salad is something some civilians can do almost any time. Now, more U.S. Army soldiers who are at remote training locations on an installation will have the opportunity to get a fast yet nutritious meal from a nearby food truck, instead of leaving the base for fast food or making a long trip back to a dining facility while training.

The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support partnered with the Army’s Joint Culinary Center of Excellence to provide six newly designed food trucks to military bases across the country. The first of these new vehicles rolled through the Troop Support headquarters in Philadelphia on its way Fort Drum, New York July 9.

JCCOE staff will receive training on the new food truck at Fort Drum so they can then train cooks at the six bases, said Jose Millan, a senior food systems analyst with the JCCOE.

The remaining five trucks will be delivered to Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Hood, Texas; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Fort Riley, Kansas; and Fort Bliss, Texas, said Dean Schoendorfer, integrated support team chief within the Subsistence supply chain’s Food Equipment branch at DLA Troop Support.

“We looked for those ‘food deserts’ where we could maximize using the trucks for the soldiers where they work, where they live, and where they consume a meal,” Millan said about the locations selected for the new trucks.

The food trucks, all named The Culinary Outpost, get quick and healthy meals to soldiers in locations where they cannot get to a dining facility in a timely manner, such as when they are in training and field environments, Schoendorfer said.

Food trucks also give soldiers a healthier and more cost-effective alternative to leaving the base to buy fast food. If soldiers leave the base, they have to pay for meals out-of-pocket, Schoendorfer said.

“They are getting a better meal by doing this,” Schoendorfer said, adding that soldiers can use their daily food stipend at the food trucks by swiping their common access card.

The trucks can serve 200 to 300 soldiers per meal three times a day. Each meal will have three to five customizable options.

The trucks are equipped with appliances like panini presses, air fryers and microwaves. A digital menu board hangs on the front, listing daily food options. Soldiers place their order on a touch screen below the menu board, where the order can be customized.

The food for the trucks is ordered by the base’s dining facility or Culinary Arts Center and picked up and prepared each day by the food truck crew, Schoendorfer said. The food truck “shopping list” is in compliance with the Army Buyers Guide for approved items, he added.

The food truck program and its menus are part of the Army’s holistic health and fitness campaign, which focuses on improving the entire soldier, from physical fitness and nutrition to education, Millan said.

The Army’s food truck program started as a pilot at Fort Stewart, Georgia in March 2017 with two trucks, and expanded to a third at Fort Carson, Colorado.

The Army developed the food truck program after working with a consultant, which provided information about current food trends and what young people are eating, Millan said.

“The consultant suggested mobile feeding concepts instead of opening more dining facilities,” Millan said.

Menus are developed with the help of dietitians, Millan said, and they follow the JCCOE’s basic daily food allowance.

The six new trucks have a number of improvements over the existing fleet. One improvement eliminates the gaps between the stainless steel appliances and counters so food and debris cannot fall in between, making cleaning easier, Schoendorfer said.

The equipment on the new trucks eliminates heat transfer, Millan said. Ventilation has also been improved, as well as the air conditioning and heating systems, he said.

Each 22-foot custom truck costs $223,960 and a contract totaling about $1.35 million was awarded by DLA in April 2019, said Michael A. Larke, a Subsistence contracting officer.

JCCOE initially reached out to Subsistence in September 2018 to request the updated food trucks, and all six trucks should be delivered by the end of the year, Schoendorfer said.

“The soldiers love it,” Millan said about the existing food truck program. “They like the ability to get something fast. They like the menu options. They like the flexibility it provides.”