Getting Turkey To The Troops

Guy Raz speaks with Rich Faso, director of customer operations for the Defense Logistic Agency's Troop Support Subsistence supply chain. Faso is in charge of the effort to get Thanksgiving meals to American troops overseas for the holiday.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

There are roughly 120,000 American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. And on Thanksgiving, those two places may in fact be easiest in the world to locate pumpkin pie, stuffing and cranberry sauce. That's because the Defense Logistics Agency, which is an office of the Pentagon, has been busy for months making sure that tens of thousands of pounds of turkey, bread rolls and all the Thanksgiving trimmings will arrive to those troops in time.

Rich Faso is the man in charge of this endeavor and here's his Thanksgiving shopping list just for Afghanistan.

RICH FASO: Thirty thousand pounds of turkey breast, 38,000 pounds of whole turkey, 18,000 pounds of smoked whole turkey, 30,000 pounds of ham, 27,000 pies, as well as 13,000 pounds of cranberry sauce.

RAZ: Rich, how do you begin to plan all that? When does this process actually start?

FASO: Well, Guy, when most people are planning their vacations for the summer, we're busy thinking about Thanksgiving. So, in the May timeframe, roughly six months prior to the event.

RAZ: So how many people are actually involved in making this happen? I mean, you say you started doing this over the summer. There must be hundreds of people trying to figure out how to get Thanksgiving dinners to troops in sometimes very remote parts of Afghanistan and Iraq.

FASO: We have about 300 people here in Philadelphia, 'cause we support the military all over the world. But we do have probably 20 to 30 people that concentrate solely on Iraq and Afghanistan and the requirements for the military stationed there.

RAZ: So this stuff is shipped from the U.S. It takes about 75 days to get to Afghanistan and Iraq. And I've read that in the past, you had to sort of negotiate some pretty hairy border crossings just to get the food into Afghanistan, for example, like dealing with tribal warlords on the borders and stuff.

FASO: Yes. If you take the Pakistan route, it can take 12 days to travel from the Karachi port all the way up into Afghanistan. And along the way, you might be asked to pay a little toll now and then.

RAZ: Aha, yes.

FASO: And then, if you come in through the north, depending upon the weather you might get shut down because of snow or something like that. The roads are just very narrow and can be completely impassable at times.

RAZ: Some of these troops, particularly in Afghanistan, are in pretty remote outposts. How do you get the food down to them?

FASO: There are some customers in Afghanistan where we routinely deliver by helicopter. There is no way to get a truck into some of the remote areas that they have, and helicopter is the standard means of getting them food on a consistent basis.

RAZ: What does it cost to feed 120,000 troops, or even just the troops in Afghanistan, this one Thanksgiving meal?

FASO: It's $7 per person per meal.

RAZ: That's pretty good. It seems pretty efficient. Why don't you just do Thanksgiving everyday?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FASO: It would - believe it or not, is - you can only eat so much turkey. So it would get mundane after a while.

RAZ: The American military presence in Iraq, of course, is winding down. And the 20,000 or so troops that are still there will be home by the end of December. So this is probably the last Thanksgiving you're going to be coordinating for troops there, right?

FASO: Yes. We'll be taking on the Department of State, who's going into Iraq to complete the mission.

RAZ: Now normally, after Thanksgiving somebody like you would be able to just relax and kind of take it easy. But you're like doing the same thing for Christmas just a few weeks later.

FASO: Yes, and the Christmas meal is already in Iraq and Afghanistan, poised to go out to the troops once Thanksgiving is over.

RAZ: And it's pretty much the same meal except you throw in some eggnog, right?

FASO: Yeah, it is the same meal. Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAZ: That's Rich Faso. He's with the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency. He's the man in charge of getting a hot Thanksgiving meal and Christmas meal out to all American servicemen and women abroad.

Rich Faso, thanks so much.

FASO: Thank you, Guy.

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