Manassas Journal Messenger | Troops to get Christmas meal

AUDIO SLIDESHOW Christmas Together, with music from the Manassas Community Chorale Ensemble

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WASHINGTON – Tabari Moore plans to wake up Christmas Day before 5 a.m., long before the sun rises. It will be a busy day.

He is cooking for several hundred Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen at Camp Korean Village, an isolated desert base in Al Anbar province of Western Iraq.

Moore, a 21-year-old corporal from Jackson, Miss., is chief cook for the Marines’ 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

He and his crew of cooks will prepare 22 cases of turkey breasts, a dozen boxes of ham, rib-eye steaks, shrimp, all kinds of potatoes (sweet, baked and mashed), 40 pies, four cases of fruitcake and tubs of ice cream for the feast. And, don’t forget, eggnog – minus bourbon or rum – for everyone.

Children’s holiday cards already paper the “chow hall” walls. In the corner, a blizzard of fake snow churns inside an inflatable 6-foot high “snow globe” with a snowman inside. A real Christmas tree stands to one side of the dining room. An artificial tree, strung with lights, guards the front door.

“We try to make everyone feel at home,” said Moore, during a phone interview. “I’m here to make sure these people are satisfied and feel closer to home.”

The men and women at Camp Korean Village are a few of the 169,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan guaranteed to get a holiday meal.

The task isn’t easy.

The Army subsistence center at Fort Lee wrote the menus in May and the Defense Department’s food service specialists in Philadelphia ordered the vittles.

In June, the order went out, including:

• 525,841 pounds of turkey, ham, beef and shrimp.

• 48 tons of stuffing.

• 30,000 pounds of cranberry sauce

• 32,190 pies.

Price tag: $2.4 million.

Going down to the neighborhood supermarket is not an option.

The Marines are at the end of a long supply line that starts in Norfolk and other U.S. ports, where the food is loaded onto cargo ships bound for Kuwait, arriving in early October. Trucks convoy the food into Iraq.

Some of the food does not make it.

Last year, three truckloads of Thanksgiving meals were blown up in Afghanistan on the way to Bagram airbase. The Philadelphia supply center organized an emergency airlift for the holiday. This year, the holiday food is flying into Afghanistan.

“If things go well, nothing is said, but if one facility doesn’t get their cranberry sauce – we hear about it,” said Richard Faso, a director at the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.

The food for Camp Korean Village arrived unharmed Dec. 17 after a 250-mile trip through insurgent-ridden territory from the main Marine base at Ramadi.

Cpl. Moore and the rest of the battalion, which is based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., have been there since late September, living in a barren moonscape. The base, near Al Rutbah, got its name because it once housed Korean laborers who paved the Amman-Baghdad highway during the Saddam regime.

From the base, the battalion’s armored vehicles serve as modern-day cavalry, patrolling the badlands looking for insurgents sneaking across the border.

It doesn’t get too much more remote than this at Christmastime.

Unless, you’re a Marine watching the border – 80 miles away from the camp’s chow hall and morale center.

Moore’s cooks will load up trucks with turkey, ham, potatoes and pies for the dusty trips to the border outposts. The meals, under the watchful guard of M-16-toting troops, will be dished out of large, heated canisters and onto paper plates. If the wind is blowing, Marines will have to shield the meals with their bodies or the ham will be seasoned by gritty sand.

Cooking up a holiday meal for soldiers has been a military tradition since at least the Civil War.

Holiday menus through the wars have stayed largely the same, with variations for contemporary tastes.

A holiday menu for a Navy cruiser in World War II listed “roast young tom turkey” with “raisin-sage dressing,” brandied fruitcake and Waldorf salad. To finish off the meal – “Robert Burns cigars.”

In 1971, soldiers in Vietnam downed roast turkey with sausage dressing and giblet gravy, cranberry sauce and mincemeat pie.

At the beginning of the Gulf War in 1990, troops camped in Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield feasted on turkey and stuffing, shrimp, canned potatoes, fruitcakes and nuts. Missing from the Christmas menu – ham. Strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabia.

There haven’t been too many changes in recent years, said Faso.

“It’s been pretty standard fare – turkey, ham, seafood, sweet potatoes and pies – not unlike what you or I would have at home,” he added.

The cooks at Korean Village are adding some personal touches to the menu.

Marshmallows will top the sweet potatoes, Moore said. And, the chow hall will have extra piles of Christmas cookies, chocolate and candy canes.

He’s made a promise to the troops.

“I guarantee we’ll get this meal out without any mishaps,” Moore said.

James W. Crawley reports from Washington for Media General News Service.

AUDIO SLIDESHOW Christmas Together, with music from the Manassas Community Chorale Ensemble

RELATED  ARMY RECIPE: Sweet potato pie for 100

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