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Kitchen at Kuwaiti camp is 24-hour operation

CAMP MATILDA, Kuwait—An army, they say, marches on its stomach. So Master Sgt. Blaine Bromwell has a serious job—dinner for 7,000.

Start with 540 pounds of beef. That's 22 pounds for every 100 Marines.

"All our recipes are per 100," says Bromwell.

Bromwell's sturdy kitchen tent is the only tent in this desert encampment that isn't dusty inside. The walls and doors are tied down during sandstorms, and huge cargo containers have been piled outside the door to help block the wind.

"We've got to keep dust out," said Bromwell, who guesses that Marines already are eating "a couple of pounds" of dust a day.

Marines at Camp Matilda have been getting two hot meals a day, breakfast and dinner. Lunch is an MRE, standing for Meal Ready to Eat, the freeze-dried, pre-packaged fare the military takes into the field.

To provide those hot meals, Bromwell oversees a staff of civilian cooks. The chefs work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week.

"We're a 24-hour operation," said Bromwell. "We started cooking dinner last night."

The meals are simple: meat in a spicy sauce poured over rice, potatoes or noodles, with a vegetable and some bread. Dessert is cake or fruit. Efficiency of preparation is one reason. "You try to reduce your pans because you don't have a lot of containers," said Bromwell.

The hot food is put in insulated containers and trucked to the Marine chow halls, where it's served on steam tables. The feeding lasts two and a half hours and the line sometimes stretches hundreds of yards.

There are at least eight similar kitchens scattered across the desert.

Operating in the desert has its problems. Hot meals were canceled for several days because inspectors found that a meat shipment had thawed and been refrozen. "It's been challenging," said Bromwell.

Bromwell said the troops don't complain, and that's true, to a point.

They all agree the hot meals are better than the MREs. But what would military life be without something to complain about?

"The evening chow is all right," said Lance Cpl. Jimmy Howard of Quitman, Miss.. who gives the hot meals a seven on a scale of 10. But he'd just as soon have cereal instead of the eggs and turkey sausage served in the morning.

Lance Cpl. Joshua Clements of Hattiesburg said salt and pepper are the key to making the eggs "all right." But he says there's not much to be done to salvage "whatever they call sausage."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): kuwait+kitchen

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