FORT MCCOY, WI, UNITED STATES
Story by Sgt. Ryan Tatum
Operation Allies Welcome – Operation Allies Refuge
Fort McCoy, Wis. – Soldiers assigned to Task Force McCoy continue to support Afghan evacuees by providing food at several of the dining facilities (DFAC) here as part of Operation Allies Welcome.
The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for at least 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities across the nation, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Bruenning, a culinary manager assigned to Task Force McCoy, gave insight on how his team ensures every Afghan evacuee gets food here.
“Working with the Soldiers at the mayor cell, they were instrumental in ensuring that each evacuee gets a meal card and wristband for their specific community,” he said.
Bruenning went on to describe how each wristband color indicates the specific block number where each resident lives. Residents are issued a meal card for access to a specific DFAC nearest their block number. Among the first challenges Bruenning and his team faced was the creation of a menu offering suitable Afghan meal options.
The team drew from other installations and from research on Afghan culture.
“We were going off what Fort Lee was using for their Afghan evacuees. We found out that Fort Lee’s evacuees were a different cultural group compared to what we have at Fort McCoy,” said Bruenning.
Sorting out some of the cultural nuances and the relatively small supply chain generally needed for Fort McCoy’s day-to-day mission, led Bruenning’s team to sit with Afghans and discuss their preferences for the various food categories, meats, starches, vegetables; essentially everything the Afghans at McCoy would like on a daily basis.
After those discussions, Bruenning and his team were able to also resolve issues about the quantity of food.
“Some say that we are getting too much food and others say we are not getting enough food. We keep the food at a certain nutritional value based on nutritional standard guidance of what a normal person would eat on daily basis,” Bruenning said.
Another challenge the team faced was getting adequate supply stock in. Previously, Afghan evacuees were going through 4,000 pounds of rice a day. Since then, it has been cut back, after talks with community block leaders and learning that rice is not the main starch Afghans prefer with every meal, said Bruenning.
Bruenning, who has over 20 years of food service experience, talked about how he is able to feed a large number Afghan evacuees on a daily basis and how this experience compares to all the missions he has conducted before.
“Throughout my career I’ve managed many different battalions, brigades, field feeding teams; I’ve dealt with going to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, feeding a lot of troops on a daily basis but I’ve never worked in an environment feeding with [this many] people,” said Bruenning. “When it is broken down by DFAC it is just like feeding 3,000 troops a day; getting them in and getting them fed a proper meal and making sure everything meets the right standards.
“I’ve had conversations through the translators that they are very thankful and they like the food,” said Bruenning. “I can honestly say every time I have seen them they have been thankful. They are very grateful for what we are doing.
Bruenning expressed how this mission has challenged him and allowed him to self-reflect on his life.
“Professionally, it has really opened my eyes to what we can do in a short amount of time with the notice that we were given to where we are now. We have taken this from ground zero to a very high standard across the board,“ said Bruenning.
Bruenning and his team expressed what makes this mission worthwhile and why they continue to give it their all.
“The biggest part [that] gets the team grinning is seeing the children playing or eating in the DFAC or enjoying themselves,” said Bruenning. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my wife Trisha and children who pushed me to get back into the food service here on Fort McCoy.”
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