Morale: McMess Hall

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May 7,2008: The U.S. military has undergone many changes since it went all-volunteer in the 1970s. A major one has to do with food. Although in theory commanders always realized that quality chow was good for morale, during the draftee period (1940-73), the food was often pretty dreary. At least in the army. That's because nearly all the draftees went to the army. Just the existence of the draft was sufficient to send plenty of volunteers to do their military service in the air force and navy. The army was dirty and dusty, while the airmen and sailors were all about clean sheets and good chow. And both of these services paid attention to food quality, knowing that the volunteers expected it.

With the elimination of the draft in the 1970s, the "mess hall" evolved into the "dining facility." Army food got better, but all the services began to notice another trend. Fewer troops were eating the better chow. The problem was that over half the troops were now married, and living with their wives. Many single troops (especially NCOs and officers) were also allowed to live off post. And many of the single troops living in the barracks often went to fast food operations (on the base, or off), for most of their meals. As a result, many dining halls are operating at less than half capacity.

Looking for a solution, the military is examining how universities handle their food services. One interesting idea, which is being tested in the military, is to turn the "meal card" (a special ID currently used to get free food in the dining facility) into something of a credit card. The new meal card could be used at any restaurant on base. Moreover, the dining facilities would be open to civilians working on the base. In effect, the dining facility would become another restaurant on the base, one with more colorful origins than the Burger Kings and fried chicken joints. The dining facility could not be eliminated, because it is partly staffed by troops assigned to the unit it serves. When deployed overseas, these food service troops set up dining facilities there, and get the troops fed.

With this, military bases continue the decades old trend of increasingly resembling university campuses, although with more weapons, discipline, purpose and intellectual freedom.

 


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