A Defense agency helps a civilian agency with a key post-disaster function

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) will aid FEMA in feeding disaster victims. The DLA’s troop-support unit acquires the rations used by troops the world over. Now it has created what it calls the Survivor Daily Ration for use by FEMA. For details, Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with the DLA’s Operational Rations Chief, Harry Streibich.

Interview Transcript:

Tom Temin So you’re the guy that provides the food that the Army’s march on, the Navy’s sail on and the airmen fly on?

Harry Streibich That is correct. Myself and I have a great team that I work with that makes that all successful.

Tom Temin And is this the first time you’ve done interagency work with FEMA or tell us the picture there.

Harry Streibich Yes, we have had a long relationship with FEMA. We meaning DLA troop support, basically dating back to 2005 with Hurricane Katrina, of course, and then followed up by Rita and Wilma sort of in succession there back in 2005. That’s where our relationship with providing them with meals for disaster survivors started up.

Tom Temin Got it. All right. So just give us a quick overview of the activity that goes on there. Now, the troop support that’s under DLA, correct?

Harry Streibich That is correct. We are basically a supply chain logistics and procurement agency, which is our specialty. So we procure all the food, clothing and medical supplies for the military and make sure we get it there on time and at a fair price.

Tom Temin Because food covers a lot of territory. There are MREs and that kind of thing for actual troops in the field. But then if you ever look in the storeroom of a battleship there’s a crate of oranges the size of a small car.

Harry Streibich We have different divisions here within the what we call the Directorate of Subsistence. And right in my primary area, which is the operational rations that you mentioned, our goal is to feed the actual warfighter in the field, like you mentioned. And then we have other divisions that you mentioned feed, the Navy on ships. Troops within what we call prime vendors, whether they’re overseas or here in the United States, where they provide basic items that the military requests on their catalog so that they can feedin their dining facilities also. So, yes, we have a varied array of services and supplies that we do feed the warfighter.

Tom Temin And sometimes you see these contests and chef bake offs and so forth within the military. But the bottom line is that food, food preparation, food logistics is really a crucial function and one the military spends a lot of time thinking about and doing, isn’t it?

Harry Streibich They do, absolutely. And we have quite a few partnerships. It doesn’t just happen. I mean, we rely on the different military services. The Army every year has a cooking competition. I believe the Marines have it also. And then with ourselves here in operational rations, we have an R&D center up in Natick, Massachusetts, who sort of makes things happen for us. The Army comes up and says, hey, we need an MRE that’s going to last for three years and that needs to taste good. And we have to have a variety of menus. And our partners up at Natick R&D Center develop all that, test it with the warfighter. And then once it’s approved, we call it Warfighter tested, Warfighter approved, then they send us all the requirements and then we go out to our vendors and buy it. And then next thing you know, our war fighter out in the field has it. So it is it is a team effort, definitely with a lot of different moving parts.

Tom Temin Yeah, I’ve tried those MREs and they’re really not bad. I’m not sure how I would like them for 42 days in a row, but that’s where I say no charms for the Marine Corps. Correct. The candy is not allowed in.

Harry Streibich I always say it’s not Mom’s home cooking, but in a pinch it’ll do it. They have improved quite a bit.

Tom Temin Yeah, a long time from those cans. It used to be what they call those K rations of the past. We’re speaking with Harry Streibich. He’s operational rations chief in the troop support subsistence supply chain. That’s part of the Defense Logistics Agency’s troop support. And let’s talk about the interagency with FEMA. This idea of the daily ration kind of a bucket of food that can last one person one day. What’s going on here?

Harry Streibich Again, we’ve had a long partnership with FEMA, as I mentioned, probably started in ’05 with Katrina, and it’s developed and evolved over the years here. So basically, we provide food. FEMA comes to us in need when they have to feed their disaster survivors. Usually it’s a hurricane. I mean, we’ve also done ice storms, fires, windstorms, that type of thing. Whenever there’s a large disaster that takes place where the infrastructure is wiped out and there’s no electricity and that type of thing, so they can’t get food for quite a while. So FEMA comes to us and partners with us to provide food. And again, we started out with years ago what we would call the commercial shelf stable meal, which I would consider more of a box lunch that sort of did the trick. We handed them out. You probably would see them on TV when they would show the aftermath of a hurricane that comes through where the guard or somebody like that or from FEMA would be handing out meals as a queue up in line to these survivors. That worked great for a time. And it still does. But those meals, I imagine being boxed lunches usually only had a nine month shelf life. And they would include things like a can of tuna or chicken or a pasta, or beans and franks, those type of things. The pop top openers and chips, cookies, raisins, candy. So anything you would see as a box for lunch and and we usually had an array of vendors who would prepare them for us when needed. They were made to order. That was great at the time. But sometimes FEMA was looking for a longer shelf life item that would last longer than nine months so that if they didn’t use them, they could store them and still have them for future disaster needs. So about a year ago they came to us and said, can you give us something that would last three years so that we can store them in our warehouses throughout the country rather than when a disaster strikes have them made to order this way? We could pre-position when something was coming up. So we work with them and we work with some of our vendors and created this survivor daily ration, which did have a three year shelf life. And we just recently put it into place in December of last year and received the first order from FEMA in January and made first delivery last month in April. So we’re anxiously waiting to get feedback from FEMA, but we think this is going to be a great addition to the partnership we have with FEMA, where we can develop and get them their rations ahead of time, and they can store them and be more prepared for pre-positioning.

Tom Temin And what is in this daily ration and what is the form factor of it.

Harry Streibich The SDR is basically enough to feed one person for one day. It’s very similar to that commercial meal that we bought previously, but it has things like maybe, for an entrée, and usually they have two entrees because that would feed again two meals during the day. You might have a spaghetti, uh, with meatballs or some type of pasta, chicken with chili, mac and cheese, that type of thing. It’s heavy on protein in terms of peanut butter and jelly. Might have a chocolate bar in there or a cookie, toaster pastry or a smoothie. So it’s got quite a variety. And again, FEMA made sure that there was a good amount of protein. But I wanted to highlight we also have and they asked us to develop a vegetarian survivor daily ration, which we’ve also done. So basically the side dishes are the same, but we might have a pasta with vegetables or a bean salad or a lentil stew for the vegetarians out there who might require them. So we have quite an array of items.

Tom Temin And you can get spaghetti and meatballs to last three years. How does it get heated up?

Harry Streibich It doesn’t have to be heated up to be very palatable. We have heaters in our MRE, but those are basically very complex and a soldier would need to do that. So we don’t include those for the general population. It’s also a safety issue for the general population, but we call these items shelf stable items where they don’t need to be refrigerated and they don’t need to be heated so they can last for three years when stored properly. And basically when you open it up, it’s eating room temperature, but they are quite good. If there is a heating area facilities, many times there’s not, so we don’t need that or require that. But it’s basically quite good when it’s eaten at room temperature also.

Tom Temin Yeah, sure. Who hasn’t raided the kitchen late at night when things are cooling off and had a mouthful of this or that.

Harry Streibich It will definitely fit the bill.

Tom Temin And FEMA pays for this. In other words, this is part of their budget.

Harry Streibich That is correct. So our relationship with FEMA is, again, very close. But again, we’re a Department of Defense, they’re Department of Homeland Security. So we have a great working relationship with them. And we stay in close contact even prior to hurricanes brewing and that type of thing. So when FEMA decides they have a need for these meals, they come to us at DLA with a funded requisition and they say, okay, DLA, we would like you to buy X amount of meals for us, whether it’s commercial shelf, stable or now moving to the SDR, they’ll come and say, Okay, DLA, we need you to buy X amount of SDRs and deliver them to our warehouse in such and such. They have about five or six warehouses throughout the country. And so then we get funded requisition and put the requirement on contract. We have three contractors who also do our MRE contract, so they’re very well experienced and equipped to do this type of work in terms of kitting and putting things together very quickly and then getting them out to our customers. So once we get that requisition, we put it on their contract and depending on the volume of the requisition on the amount of meals they need, we could go to one, two or all three of our contractors. To procure their requirement because again, time is always of the essence. So even though one of the vendors could get it done in a month or something like that, if they needed a lot quicker, we would go to all three and spread it out so that they could get it in two weeks rather than a month. So again, a great relationship with our vendors and with FEMA to get this accomplished.

Tom Temin And just a quick question to wrap up. You mentioned the vegetarian requirement, and that’s a growing thing nationally. What about the desire or do you get demand for, say, kosher or halal types of entrees.

Harry Streibich For our military? Tom, we do have a kosher and a halal menu strictly for our military, for our service members. Demand would be so low for FEMA, that the requirement would not be there that we could have our vendors make enough because it would be such a small demand. So they are not included in the SDR for FEMA at this time.

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