Military messes, food and ration packs don’t cut the mustard


Implementation of Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) recommendations to assist soldiers and other uniformed personnel in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to better perform their duties and tasks are largely dependent on funding.

This preface to a Parliamentary presentation by the force’s Chief Director: Human Resources Vice Admiral Asiel Kubu effectively puts paid to implementation due to the “current stringent economic climate”. The two-star admiral did, however, tell the Parliamentary oversight committee the DFSC recommendations are “noted for the future”.

DFSC recommendations cover, among others, the state of military messes and hospitals; occupational health and safety issues; security at SANDF bases and facilities; command and control; policies and instructions; discipline; education, training and development (ETD); deployments, internal and continental; and equipment to “do the job”.

The DFSC identified no less than 12 issues affecting food, from supply through to obsolete catering equipment and poorly trained and unqualified “food handlers” in its interpretation of the age-old adage of “an army travels on its stomach” (this is attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte and Frederick the Great and was first recorded in English in the early 20th century).

In detail, one DFSC finding has it the “lack of and non-appropriate catering equipment impedes preparation of food for large numbers in military messes”.

Another finding – this one on rations – points to delays in delivery, sub-standard rations and incorrect quantities “causing members to purchase food from own funds and sometimes go without meals for some periods, or survive on limited rations”.

Tellingly, “the lack of good quality and sufficient quantity of suitable rations is a grave national security risk rendering the SANDF unfit for purpose”.

Deployed soldiers are on the receiving end of “expired, monotonous and insufficient” ration packs, the DFSC found.

The Ministerially appointed Service Commission is seemingly no fan of efforts by particularly the SA Army to privatise and outsource messes saying: “It has an adverse effect on structures and morale”.

Another finding which in Kubu’s words “is noted for the future” is food being “withheld from troops” for guests and/or visitors to military bases, units and specifically Operation Corona areas.

To address mess and food issues, the DFSC recommends an urgent review of all mess facilities, with the intention to revise and improve post structures (including sufficient caterers), catering equipment (including equipment appropriate to feeding large numbers); cleanliness, health and safety; purchasing and storage of wet rations and fresh produce; career paths and training; and security of facilities and equipment.

The DFSC also recommends procedures and processes be reviewed to ensure timeous procurement and delivery of good quality, including fresh produce, and sufficient quantities of rations for messes and field kitchens. It wants a review of ration pack contents for deployment to be the same standard as “previous ration packs”, without specifying details of nutrition types and values.