PHILADELPHIA – Far from the family Thanksgiving table and miles from Mom's turkey and stuffing, American troops deployed overseas during the holidays can still get a taste of home on Thanksgiving.
A military center in Philadelphia operated by the Defense Logistics Agency (search) is responsible for providing food rations to troops stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world.
In southwest Asia alone, the shopping list this year includes approximately 80,000 pounds of boneless turkeys; 7,000 pounds of whole turkeys; 14,040 cans of cranberry sauce; 48,500 bags of cornbread stuffing mix; 5,200 cans of mashed potatoes; and 3,000 cases of corn on the cob.
It's enough to feed an army a quintessentially American meal.
"Obviously, food is a big morale-builder every day of the week. When people out in the field can get a hot meal, that's something special," said Rich Faso, the center's chief of operational rations business units.
When turkey and gravy replace ordinary rations for Thanksgiving, it's even more significant, he said.
The Philadelphia supply facility is one of three major purchasing centers in the country, said Defense Logistics Agency spokesman Jack Hooper. The other two are in Richmond, Va., and Columbus, Ohio.
The center, part of the Department of Defense, also distributes medical, general and industrial supplies.
The food -- prepared either by the food-service organizations, the military itself or private contractors -- is routinely transported aboard a commercial ocean freighter and then delivered to soldiers via truck, Faso said.
More than 75 delivery points in countries including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Djibouti and United Arab Emirates are scheduled to receive and serve Thanksgiving and Christmas meals this year.
The delivery can be complicated by a lack of infrastructure, or continued violence. But when it gets there, the reactions from soldiers often proves it was worth the effort.
Maj. Bob Hepner, commander of the 109th Public Affairs Detachment (search) at Fort Indiantown Gap in central Pennsylvania, recalled eating turkey and gravy in Afghanistan last Christmas.
"It was a really good day," said Hepner. "And the soldiers, we loved it. You're so far away and nothing is like being home, but that made it as close to being home as possible."