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Feeding the Force: The Spartan Field Kitchen

The 782d Brigade Support Battalion had to innovate to provide paratroopers with the same hot cooked meals and quality food services that were found at the larger forward operating bases.

When our brigade, the 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 82d Airborne Division, deployed to Afghanistan as Task Force Fury in late August 2009, it became the first BCT to operate in that country as a security force assistance (SFA) brigade. The SFA concept was designed to replace the old military transition team and embedded training team concepts in order to better train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and improve their legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people.

SFA operations, by their very nature, require units to task organize and conduct decentralized operations at the platoon level and below. The platoon became the brigade's main unit of effort. The days of huge forward operating bases supporting multiple companies were over; combat outposts, checkpoints, and patrol bases were established to place the platoons with our ANSF counterparts.

The 4th BCT paratroopers lived and worked every day with the ANSF at these bases, partnering with regular Afghan police and Army units. The paratroopers also worked with specialized units like the Afghan Border Police, who have a unique mission along the remote southern and western borders of Afghanistan (comparable to the U.S. Border Patrol), and the Afghan National Civil Order Police, which is a specially trained unit that conducts civil order patrols, crisis response, and antiterrorism operations in urban areas.

Spartan Field Kitchen

Field Feeding Options

In the current task organization of the BCT, the forward support company (FSC) is designed to provide a field-feeding capability at one or two locations, most often at the battalion level and traditionally no lower than the company level.

The primary cooking systems used by the FSC are the mobile kitchen trailer and the containerized kitchen, which are too large to maneuver into small combat outposts, checkpoints, and patrol bases. They are big, bulky, and designed to feed a company or more at a time. What Task Force Fury really needed was a platoon field-feeding capability—one that was agile and transportable, yet functional.

In most cases, the FSCs had one of each field-feeding system that they were able to employ downrange. For-tunately, when the 4th BCT arrived in Afghanistan, it fell in on some expeditionary tricon kitchen systems that were recently fielded to the Army as part of the brigade's theater-provided equipment inventory. This compact and versatile system consisted of two easily transportable tricon containers and a 60-kilowatt generator. The system provided our operational battalions with a more mobile field-feeding capability to supplement the organizational equipment that they already had on hand.

Although it is more mobile, like the mobile kitchen trailer, the expeditionary tricon kitchen system was designed to feed personnel from the company level up to the battalion level. It is capable of feeding 3 hot meals a day to approximately 300 personnel. Since the 4th BCT had an average of 30 and a maximum of 60 paratroopers at most Task Force Fury locations, and because of tight quarters with limited space available to set up full kitchens, the expeditionary tricon kitchen was not the best system for the paratroopers.

Organically, the BCT had seven mobile kitchen trailers and six containerized kitchens. It also fell in on eight expeditionary tricon systems. By June 2010, Task Force Fury paratroopers had pushed out to 55 different combat outposts, checkpoints, and patrol bases that were manned not only by organic units but also by supplemental SFA teams. It became obvious that there was not nearly enough theater-provided field-feeding equipment or organizational field-feeding equipment for every location. We had to do some out-of-the-box thinking and come up with a viable and realistic alternative.

Finding a Solution

Because of the agile nature of the BCT and the diverse living conditions facing its personnel, it became imperative for the support operations team to develop a plausible and executable plan to provide our paratroopers out on the front lines with hot cooked meals on an expedited timeline. Operational needs statements would help fill the void for the units replacing us in the future, but they would not solve our immediate problem, which was having enough field-feeding equipment at all of our locations. We simply had to develop something that could be emplaced almost immediately, and it had to be a capability that was functional and took up very little space.

The problem was supporting a brigade task force of over 5,700 Soldiers, Airmen, and Sailors (from the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organ-ization) organized into 8 battalion task forces, 2 provincial reconstruction teams, and 5 security force advisory teams operating across 2 of Afghanistan's 5 regional commands within a 137,000-square-mile area of operations (an area half the size of Texas). Dis-bursed among small and austere locations were the paratroopers.

Three times a week, the support operations section held a sustainment targeting meeting to pinpoint the systemic logistics issues that were identified throughout the previous week and that affected more than one of our battalion task forces. With a shortage of field-feeding equipment for our BCT and no plans to have contracted field-feeding support at these austere locations anytime soon, we brainstormed on how to feed the paratroopers down to the platoon level.

We needed to develop the perfect platoon field-feeding capability that was small enough to fit in our space-constrained outposts while not sacrificing capability. The solution needed to be able to feed up to100 personnel and only require one military occupational specialty 92G (food service specialist) to operate.

We decided that the main components of this field kitchen were going to be the modern burner unit (MBU), M59 field range outfit, a griddle, power converters, and other associated components that were required to run this field-expedient kitchen. However, something was missing; we needed something to pull all these items together into a functional package. We needed to find a frame of some sort that could support the griddle and MBUs and keep them in place while presenting the appearance of a field kitchen.

As a group, we decided we needed to draw on the capabilities and expertise of the allied trades section of our 782d Brigade Support Battalion maintenance company. It was apparent that this effort would require not only bringing together parts of the support operations section but also employing the wealth of talent and operational experience that was located in our base companies. The Spartan field kitchen was the result of this process.

Spartan Field Kitchen

The Spartan Field Kitchen

Our master welders took the blueprints we provided and began fabricating what would become the structure of the Spartan field kitchen.

We called it the Spartan field kitchen in honor of our battalion mascot. The Spartans were sternly disciplined, rigorously simple, and austere; the moniker was fitting for the capability that was required to be designed for our forward and austere locations.

The initial requirement called for a frame capable of holding the main surface or griddle and the M59 field stove. The heating source that we used was the MBU, which was also required to be secured and held in place below the griddle. Until recently, the MBUs were class VII (major end items) nonexpendable items. Thanks to a change in the supply accountability code, they are now class IX (repair parts) items that are easy to requisition through our maintenance company's Standard
Army Maintenance System-Enhanced.

With the MBUs on order, we began to emplace all of the cookware, which was class II (clothing and individual equipment), and the griddle, the power supply, and the 2-kilowatt generator. Both the griddle and the 2-kilowatt generator were class VII items that had to be ordered through our property book officer. While we waited for all of the components to come in through the supply system, the allied trades section began producing the Spartan field kitchen frame.

Using aluminum for the frame and a little para-trooper ingenuity, the Spartan field kitchen started to take shape. The mold for the initial frame structure was developed relatively quickly, leaving time for the allied trades section to make a few upgrades to the design of the Spartan field kitchen while we waited for the other components to be delivered to the supply support activity.

Spartan Field Kitchen

Field sanitation at the outlying combat outposts was a concern, so the team designed a few simple aluminum additions to provide a few field sanitation capabilities. They designed a field sanitation sink with a sink stand and a serving and drying rack for all the cookware once it was cleaned. Within 30 days, we had designed the perfect platoon field-feeding capability, complete with power generation and a make-shift, but functional, field sanitation center.

We had the new field-feeding capability we needed. The new Spartan field kitchen was agile enough and small enough to fit into the combat outposts and was tailored to meet the needs of the smaller platoon-sized elements. In less than a month, the Spartan field kitchen was providing our paratroopers with quality hot meals.

By the end of July 2010, more than 25 Spartan field kitchens had been distributed throughout the operating area, primarily in Regional Command South around Kandahar City. The kitchen's first meals received rave reviews from the platoons on the ground. The Spartan field kitchen proved to be particularly valuable for the expeditionary checkpoints that Task Force Fury occupied in and around Kandahar City during the last 60 days of the deployment. It further demonstrated the critical need for a field-feeding capability for a platoon-sized headcount. The Spartan field kitchen proved to be a valuable weapon added to the Task Force Fury arsenal, thanks to its size, agility, and ease of setup.

This platoon-sized field-feeding concept single handedly allowed our forward paratroopers to receive the same hot and fresh chow that their fellow paratroopers were receiving at the larger forward operating bases. Little comforts like having a hot cooked meal mean a lot to the paratroopers out in the field, and those meals help them work efficiently alongside our Afghan allies to provide a secure, stable, and legitimate government to the citizens of Afghanistan.

Major Sean P. Kelly is the support operations officer for the 782d Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82d Airborne Division. He has a bachelor's degree in criminology from Norwich University and is a graduate of the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, Joint Course on Logistics, Support Operations Course, Basic and Advanced Airborne Schools, Pathfinder School, and Aerial Delivery Management Officer Course.

Captain Rob Champion is a logistics operations officer in the 782d Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82d Airborne Division, and previously served as a ground support equipment pla-toon leader and executive officer in the 782d Brigade Support Battalion maintenance company. He has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Eastern Michigan University and is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic Course and Basic Airborne School.

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