CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
The 8-ounce fillets hit the grill in a sizzle and the juice dripped down on the red coals, causing a flow of white to billow from the smoker. The line of Marines rapidly grew longer as they waited anxiously for the metaphorical dinner bell to ring, where some would receive their first home-cooked meal in months.
Recently, Steak Team Mission, a privately funded, nonprofit organization from Dallas served the Marines and sailors of 2nd Marine Division (Forward) steak dinners in seven separate locations within a five day period.
Steak Team Mission has served 31,000 service members around the world prior to their trip to Helmand province April 14. This was the first time in Steak Team Mission’s history feeding in more than two locations or feeding Marine-specific units. According to Tony Booth, treasurer for Steak Team Mission, the journey to Afghanistan was the dream of one of their volunteers and a former Marine, Terry Chapel. Booth stated Chapel called Harvey Gough, president for Steak Team Mission, and addressed his idea. Gough, a former tanker in the Texas National Guard, suggested the team feed the Marines in Helmand province.
“We want to go to the dirtiest, nastiest and ugliest places,” said Booth. “(We want) to get to the guys whose boots are in the dirt and who are really taking the fight to the (enemy). That’s who needs us, and that is where we want to be. We just want to bring them a little piece of home.”
Steak Team Mission next had to coordinate the logistics to make Chapel’s dream a reality. The team received approval for the trip after months of coordinating with U.S. Central Command, responsible for operations in the greater Middle East and South Central Asia.
The next big challenge was delivering the roughly $30,000 worth of steaks, ice cream and side dishes halfway around the world. The group garnered support from Fed Ex, which volunteered to transport the shipment to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where it was then transferred to a military aircraft. A private foundation donated the remaining funds necessary to get the trip on the runway.
With funding secured and steaks on the plane, the landing gear was up and the flight was headed to Dubai.
“The food came here in dry ice, and they were feeding ice cream in addition to steak, which his highly perishable,” said Maj. Joe Farley, the operations officer for the Supply and Logistics section, 2nd MarDiv (Fwd). “It was a challenge to link the food up with the airlifts. We had to minimize the amount of time we were away from refrigeration.”
Farley, who ensures subordinate units have the resources necessary to accomplish their mission, coordinated the movement of volunteers and steaks. He spoke to unit commanders within the division’s battle space to identify the seven locations selected for Steak Team Mission to feed Marines and sailors and his Marines worked diligently once the cargo was delivered from Dubai to prepare for the movement.
“The goal was to feed as many Marines as far forward (in the area of operations) as possible, and in the shortest amount of time,” said Farley, a Tazewell, Va., native. “That is what we tried to accomplish and resulted in a rather demanding airlift schedule.”
Three teams of volunteers, along with Marines from the Supply and Logistics section, hopped on and off CH-53 Super Stallion Helicopters, bringing the joy of Texas steaks.
At every location, Marines lined up next to the grill waiting for Booth to say, “Get on up here and tell ‘em how ya want it Marine! Raw, rare, medium rare, well done -- it’s cooked to order. ”
The scent of flame-basking beef filled the air, and the grins Marines’ faces grew broader the longer they waited.
“This is my fourth deployment, and this is the first time I’ve seen this happen before,” said Sgt. Corey Branner, the mess hall chief for 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment.
Branner, a Chicago native, is in charge of ensuring breakfast, lunch and dinner is prepared for the battalion and said it was great to see the Marines’ smile at their first home-cooked meal in a while. He also noted the positive impact a meal like this has on morale in a unit and its affect on the mission.
Steak Team Mission pushed further and further south as the operation progressed, with one of the last stops being Patrol Base Wolfpack, approximately 20 miles from the Pakistan border.
The further down the team pushed, the fewer Marines there were to feed. Booth said there were some locations with only 100 to 150 Marines to serve. Steak Team Mission made it their mission to keep moving and cooking up home-cooked meals, regardless of the number Marines available.
“In places where there were 50 (Marines), they weren’t getting much,” said Booth. “They had plenty of food, but it is the same old (thing) day after day.”
The Steak Team Mission did their best to feed every Marine available at each stop, even if it meant waiting for the Marines to get back to base from maneuvers. Lance Cpl. Wayne Snelling, serving as a dog handler with Erie Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, stated his platoon had been out for nearly a month and a half and their usual food comes from pre-packaged Meals, Ready to Eat.
“This is the best meal I’ve had in more than a month,” said Snelling, a Boerne, Texas, native. At the conclusion of the five day evolution, Booth said all the Marines they served were extremely appreciative, and they weren’t shy about showing it.
“Every Marine who came through the line came back through to shake our hands,” he explained. “They said it was the best meal they have had in 6 months, or however long they had been here.”
The Steak Team Mission volunteers closed out another successful mission, bringing a touch of home to Marines and sailors here. Their efforts demonstrated a tremendous level of dedication and patriotism, according to Farley.
“That gives them a taste of home, but it shows the people at home give a damn,” said Farley. “There are people out there (who) want to make a difference, but Steak Team Mission not only talks the talk, they also walk the walk.”