After working 18 hour days in eastern Afghanistan where he operates and repairs armored vehicles damaged by blasts from improvised explosive devices or mechanical failures, Private First Class Ryan Reynaud of Gilroy returned to base camp and was met with an unpleasant surprise: Breakfast was no longer being served in the chow hall.
Instead, the troops are being issued “Meals, Ready-to-Eat (lightweight field rations known as MRE’s) during dinner or lunch, which they are supposed to save until breakfast the next day.
These prepackaged meals contain a standard ration for the marching soldier, packaged and designed to take up minimal space and weight. The parcels come with a flameless heater, entrée, side dish and various small snacks, but as far as Ryan’s fiancée of eight months, Jackie Moon is concerned, America’s servicemen and women deserve better.
In protest of what the 24-year-old Gilroy resident calls “astronaut food,” Jackie launched a Facebook page titled “Feed our Troops.” The website asks that donations of non-perishable breakfast food, such as oatmeal, cereal, or granola to be brought to Jackie’s address at 195 Leavesley Road in Gilroy.
Any food items sent to Jackie will be forwarded on to Ryan to share with the rest of his base, which is staffed with 500 army personnel.
When he heard about the effort being spearheaded by Jackie, Ryan said he was “amazed.”
The 28-year-old had told his fiancé about the new policy, but when she decided to rally up the community for his cause, Ryan said he felt “very happy and proud. I felt important and thought about.”
Jackie insists that if there is any chance for a normal meal, the troops should be given one.
“Over there, there is no sense of normalcy. It’s chaos,” she said. “I know they are being served food, but it’s not the greatest of food. They are in a war zone; if we could, we should send the best chefs, so at least part of their life is good.”
Ryan, a lifetime Gilroy resident, graduated in 2003 from Gilroy High School, where he competed in football and wrestling and garnered numerous honors for athletic excellence. He was deployed to Afghanistan in July 2012 and hopes to return by late spring.
The new breakfast policy commenced Jan. 1, and Ryan said that the monotony of a prepackaged breakfast can quickly wear out morale. He mentioned that some of his fellow soldiers wanted more from what is supposed to be their most important meal of the day. Some soldiers have taken to special ordering snack foods from websites, such as walmart.com.
Pentagon Spokesman Commander Bill Speaks claims that rumors online about federal budget cuts to the armed forces are false. Only operating bases that are being transferred to the Afghans or being shut down are issued MREs, he asserted. Speaks confirmed that at least one camp is being shut down in Eastern Afghanistan, but didn’t specify which.
Sgt. Ryan Bennett, a Morgan Hill resident who joined the Marine Corps in 2006, was deployed to Camp Leatherneck in the Helman province of Afghanistan from August 2011 to February 2012. He hadn’t heard about the MREs replacing breakfast, but said care packages were very much needed.
“It’s one of the best feelings you can get out there. It’s like opening a present on Christmas or on your birthday,” he recollected.
When Jackie first learned of this situation two weeks ago, she was infuriated.
“It’s not political,” she said. “That’s not what this is about.”
Shorting the troops on breakfast, even if the base is being dismantled, is unacceptable, she insisted.
“War is no picnic obviously,” Jackie continued. “But to not even have an option of getting a normal breakfast, I think is just disrespectful. What I’m sending them it isn’t steak and eggs, but it’s something.”
Gilroy resident and WWII veteran George Chiapetta mentioned that the foods available to the troops now are much better than what they used to be. Back when Chiapetta was serving in the Pacific Theater, “we would have Spam for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” he chuckled. “And the only times you had real eggs was if you were going on a real bad mission.”
Even though most of his food was powdered or canned, Chiapetta said that the treat of real food was necessary for morale.
Jackie said she had thought of the Facebook page after she vented about the situation on her personal Facebook wall. A friend of Jackie’s saw her Facebook post and messaged her, asking if there was anything that could be sent to help. After that, Jackie created the page and sent it to all her friends.
Soon enough, “so many people shared the page, and I’m getting emails from people I don’t even know,” she said. “I’ve only had that page for 72 hours, and it has 125 ‘likes.’ It’s no giant YouTube video, but it’s nice to see people care.”
Jackie is urging anyone who wants to help to spread the word – as well as her Facebook page.
She is grateful for any donation, such as food, grocery stores gift cards or help with the shipping costs.
“Shipping is awful,” she admitted. “Last week, the shipping cost was $130.”
Her list of items is simple and includes the basics: oatmeal, granola, cereal and other simple staples. Microwaveable cups and bowls are also desirable.
“The hope of all this is that someone with authority will agree that this is wrong and something will be done about it,” she said. “Until then, I will be doing this … they all need food. I know (Ryan) is one of many.”