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Pentagon switches troops' Thanksgiving meals to 'grab-and-go' takeout, halts dining hall feasts amid pandemic

Army Maj. Brent Wilson, the executive officer for the 408th Contracting Support Brigade based in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, serves junior Soliders Thanksgiving lunch on Nov. 26, 2020.(Photo by U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Jermaine Jackson)

U.S. military troops deployed overseas will enjoy more than 250,000 pounds of Thanksgiving food in a “grab-and-go” fashion, as the Department of Defense does away with traditional holiday gatherings in dining halls to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among service members.

Instead of the standard large group gathering in dining facilities, service members stationed in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Korea, Japan, Qatar and Honduras, among other locations, will enjoy their Thanksgiving meals this year as “grab-and-go style takeout,” the Pentagon said Tuesday.

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The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which coordinates the annual holiday meal, shipped 9,000 whole turkeys, 51,000 pounds of roasted turkeys, 74,000 pounds of beef, 21,000 pounds of ham, 67,000 pounds of shrimp, 16,000 pounds of sweet potatoes, 19,000 pounds of pies and cakes and 7,000 gallons of eggnog.

"The holidays will look quite different this year for everyone," Army Brig. Gen. Gavin Lawrence, DLA’s Troop Support commander said in a statement. "I'm proud that our workforce is doing everything possible to make sure our warfighters get a proper holiday meal, especially since many of us will not be able to be with our family and friends. We want to make sure they get that taste of home no matter where they are in the world."

U.S. Army Central (fwd) leadership prepare to serve a Thanksgiving meal on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Novemember 26, 2020. Military leadership volunteered to help serve the meal, bringing everyone a little closer this holiday season. (Photo by U.S. Army S

There have been nearly 75,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus among members of the U.S. military. More than 46,000 have recovered; 821 have been hospitalized and 11 have died from it, according to DOD cumulative totals last updated at 6 a.m. EST Monday.

DLA, which has provided to field kitchens, dining facilities and galleys all over the world for more than 50 years, said it began coordinating with vendors as early as March to have Thanksgiving shipments arrive to the troops between mid-October and mid-November.  The agency supplies America's armed forces with $19 billion annually in food, uniforms, protective equipment and other vital items.

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"Our supply chain takes the holidays very seriously," said Army Col. Eric McCoy, DLA's Troop Support subsistence director. "Our troops are far away from home, and they definitely look forward to this meal. Disappointing them is not an option."

Effective 5 a.m. EST Thursday, the Pentagon upped its health protection condition to account for the steady increase in COVID-19 cases and positive test results on the Pentagon Reservation since late August, as well as a steady increase in cases in the National Capital Region since mid-September.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Hester, senior enlisted advisor of U.S. Army Central, tours and greets Soldiers in a dining facility during the Thanksgiving meal on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Novemember 26, 2020. Military leadership volunteered to help serve

Under Health Protection Condition Bravo-Plus, at least 60% of the workforce should work remotely. For those DOD employees reporting in person, random entrance screenings will be in effect at 5-15% and food courts will provide takeout only. All visitors will continue to be screened. Cloth face coverings also remain mandatory, and the use of mass transit and carpooling to get to work is discouraged.

For his first international trip leading the Defense Department, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller is visiting the Middle East this week to “meet with service members to express his gratitude for the selfless service to the Nation by both them and their families and to wish them a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday,” according to a press release.

U.S. Army Col. Drake McGraw, commander of Area Support Group—Balkans and Iowa National Guard Soldier Rodney Chitty, executive officer of Regional Command East Kosovo Force, cut the cake during a Thanksgiving meal at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, on Nov. 26

Miller is also scheduled to meet with U.S. commanders and host nation leaders to address security interests and priorities of countering violent extremism and combating malign activities that threaten the sovereignty and stability of the region.

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Last week, a top Pentagon official, retired Army brigadier general Anthony Tata, tested positive for COVID-19 following a meeting with Lithuanian Minister of Defense Raimundas Karoblis. Tata had just assumed the role of undersecretary of defense for policy on Nov. 10.

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