When we watch or read fiction on the military, we tend to romantically think of the military as its own self-sustaining operation, with every base post, from janitors to mess cooks to security, manned by soldiers. So it is to our surprise that the United States Army is bringing back the notion of making soldiers don the aprons and man the security posts, making them cooks security guards. Granted, the Army has reasons for the switch, which seem more due to budget cutbacks than anything else. But still, we were surprised that soldiers were not serving as mess cooks on our military bases in the first place.
The measure, approved by the top brass including Army Secretary John McHugh, would reassign at least 6,000 soldiers, regardless of their operational specialty, to man "dining facilities" located in both stateside and overseas bases. They may also be reassigned to perform "security guard duties" stateside as well. Depending on the length of the reassignment, the number of soldiers to be reassigned for these duties can go up to 28,000, the size of an army corps.
McHugh's reasons for the cutbacks have a little bit to do with federal government's shutdown, as well as sequestration that happened earlier this year. Previously, security posts and mess halls were manned by outside civilian contractors. Now, there is not enough money to pay them. Perhaps, in the case of the mess halls, that allowed for superior food to be had. But it just does not mesh well with image most Americans have of a mess hall, especially since it likely matches up with that of a school cafeteria.
Furthermore, with the winding down of troop levels in Afghanistan, and military actions dropping under President Barack Obama, Army soldiers do not have much to do and tend to idle on base, which top brass thinks affects overall morale. Despite objections from Army Undersecretary Joseph Westphal, who said "non-concur!" in response, thinking of these mess hall and security duties as too lowly for soldiers to perform, the changes were approved and will take place in the coming weeks.