Fast, easy-to-prepare meals are vital part of DLA Troop Support’s COVID-19 response

By Nancy Benecki Public Affairs

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Providing easy-to-prepare meals and rations has been a major part of the Defense Logistics Agency’s COVID-19 response as dining facilities closed, troops were quarantined and military units rushed to restock shelves during the worldwide pandemic.

DLA Troop Support’s Subsistence supply chain developed five new individual meal kits in March for customers of closed dining facilities at Fort Jackson and the Naval Weapons Station in South Carolina. Purchased by the case, the kits include breakfast, lunch and dinner options like pepper steak, vegetarian three-cheese lasagna, beef with diced potatoes, chicken tandoori and Tex-Mex vegetarian chili.

Lisa Hutton, a tailored vendor logistic specialist with Subsistence for the South Carolina region, described the meals as grab-and-go.

“With social distancing, [customers are] not having bigger portions where everyone is digging into one lasagna,” she said.

Hutton forwarded requests for the meal kits with nutritional information, pricing and specifications to Subsistence’s cataloging team so local serial numbers could be assigned. Daniel Monteiro, a contract specialist for the South Carolina region, then confirmed prices as fair and reasonable so the items could be added to the catalog.

Pre-made sandwiches, salads and individually-wrapped items like cookies and fruit cups are also being provided to the Navy.

“This is something that we’re seeing all over the county. It’s a very different scheme of support than what we’re used to,” said Lauren Ginsberg, branch chief of the Southeast region of the Subsistence Garrison Feeding Branch.

Army officials at Fort Benning, Georgia, also placed an emergency order in March for 5,779 cases of shelf-stable heater meals for COVID-19 support. The meals usually have a 21-day lead time, but the vendor delivered the first 801 cases in just seven days, Ginsberg said. The rest of the cases were delivered over the course of 11 days to accommodate the customer’s limited storage capacity.

Orders for Meals, Ready to Eat increased, too, as Navy officials ordered 19,200 MREs for the USS Theodore Roosevelt in Guam, where crew members were isolated due to COVID-19.

“The MRE is the default, go-to ration for much of the Department of Defense when they need to have something on hand to eat,” said Sean Wood, acting chief of the Readiness Division. “And if they don’t eat it immediately, there’s no issue of storage or waste.”

The request depleted DLA’s MRE stock in Guam to below-normal levels, but it was replenished in 15 days from Korea-based stock, said Kaushal Desai, Individual Rations Branch chief.

DLA Troop Support also provided 585 cases of MREs – each case contains 12 meals – and over 1,050 Unitized Group Rations modules to a Navy Expeditionary Medical Facility built at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam to expand the Defense Department’s COVID-19 response capabilities there. Each UGR module includes 50 meals for troops with food service facilities.

Subsistence also provided 4,600 cases of MREs to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier for crew members restricted to the vessel at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan. The first order included 2,000 cases of MRES from stock in Japan. A second order for 2,600 cases came from Korea stock. An additional 7,632 cases of MREs were provided to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan from stock in Korea.

The number of orders from Japan-based customers was unusually high, Wood said.

“The totals are well in excess of what we do there in a year, and we did it within 30 days of one another,” he said.

Although recent orders temporarily depleted MRE stocks, Wood said they were quickly replenished due to coordination between the Subsistence teams in the Pacific and Philadelphia, vendors, MRE assemblers and industry partners.

“All these actions were done with Troop Support’s Indo-Pacific partners,” Wood said. “We had the strategic guidance, management of the orders and sourcing in Philadelphia, but without our partners in Guam, Japan, Korea and Hawaii, it wouldn’t have been possible. They were an important part of this whole process.”

The combination of teamwork with fellow DLA entities, industry and other governmental partners allows the success of this effort, Wood said.

“We have an [industry] base that understands the mission and is able to do their part fast,” Wood said. “We also engage our partners at DLA Distribution, the U.S. Transportation Command, and other partners to coordinate air and commercial multi-modal for all these moving pieces.”