PHILADELPHIA, PA, UNITED STATES
Story by Nancy Benecki
Defense Logistics Agency
The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support is making sure warfighters all over the world have the special religious items and food they need to mark the Passover and Easter holidays. This year Passover began March 27 and ends on same date as Easter, April 4.
DLA Troop Support’s Subsistence supply chain helped ship almost 60,000 pounds of holiday food around the world, and orders for religious items were at an all-time high this year. DLA Troop Support spearheads this religious support every year.
Shipping religious items across the globe was “actually smoother than in years past,” said Christopher Gaudio, a customer account specialist from the Clothing and Textiles supply chain and team leader for the religious support program.
There were a total of 203 orders this year, shipping within and outside of the United States, compared to 159 orders last year, he said. Religious item orders this year included:
• 120 bottles of wine/grape juice
• 43,500 palms and Orthodox palms
• 298 Seder kits
• 172 ounces of ashes, which serves about 68,800 people
All religious items for Passover and Easter were delivered by March 25. They were manually tracked “intensively” to ensure they make it to the customers’ hands in time for the holidays, said Paul Diak, branch chief of the religious support program in the Clothing and Textiles supply chain.
This year, the Subsistence supply chain shipped 1,002 cases of Kosher Meals, Ready to Eat, for the holidays. Each case contains 12 accessory kits, 12 entrees including chicken, beef, and gefilte fish menus, one box of matzo, and two bags of heaters for the entrees, with four heaters per bag.
There were some shipping issues because of container delays and product sourcing, said Robin Whaley, the Europe and Central Command branch chief in the Subsistence supply chain. Some customers had to revise their requirements to make up for the delivery shortages, she said.
The total amounts of food sent out for holiday meals included:
• 15,906 pounds of pork
• 20,010 pounds of salmon
• 14904 Pounds of shrimp
• 8,372 pounds of ham
• Numerous holiday desserts from various vendors
Last year, at the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Gaudio said some religious items were bumped off of military flights as medical personal protective equipment was prioritized to ship outside of the U.S.
This year, however, religious items were placed on a “green sheet,” which prioritizes specially identified cargo for shipment and prevents it from getting bumped off of military aircraft flights for higher priority items, he said.
Green sheets require several layers of approval, detailed information about the cargo, and the reason it requires a speedy shipping time, Gaudio said.
Listing items on the green sheet also helps bypass any issues that may come with taxes or customs, Diak said.
“When you’re trying to get wine and certain things into ‘dry’ countries, customs can come into play,” Diak said. “So without having to go through those extra measures, we fly [some items] MILAIR.”
Some items are also shipped commercially to overseas customers, Diak said.
“We manually track everything from cradle to grave,” he said. “This ensures boxes of ashes or Seder kits, for example, are not sitting on a ship instead of delivered to the customer who needs it for a rapidly approaching holiday,” he said.
Last year, many Passover and Easter observations were held alone or virtually as opposed to in a chapel or with a group due to COVID-19. This year, observations will be more “normal” but follow COVID-19 precautions including wearing masks and social distancing, Gaudio said.
“We do this for morale because it’s the right thing to do so a [service member] can practice their faith while away from home,” Diak said. “It’s not a money program. We do this because we are invested in the program and our vendors are invested in the program.”
After every holiday season, the religious support team conducts an after action review to find ways to improve processes and make them even more efficient, Diak said.
“Even if we ship everything at 100 percent, we look for ways to make it better,” he said. “We know what has to go MILAIR. Palms are live vegetation that have to be refrigerated….so we have to ship between certain weeks to keep them from drying out.
“We’re always trying to perfect this craft, so to speak,” he said.
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