News: Operation Feeding Freedom VIII brings a delicious taste of home to troops in Afghanistan
Story by Gunnery Sgt. William Price
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - The Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen of Regional Command Southwest recently got "a delicious taste of home" courtesy of Outback Steakhouse Inc. Restaurant Partners LLC, the parent company of Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, and Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine.
The international corporation of restaurants, founded in 1987 by Tim Gannon, Bob Basham, Chris Sullivan and Trudy Cooper, initiated "Operation Feeding Freedom," an endeavor dedicated to providing U.S. and coalition service members with delicious meals from OSI's well-known restaurant brands.
"Operation Feeding Freedom" kicked off in 2002, when OSI delivered more than 6,000 meals to troops in Afghanistan. Since then, OSI has fed more than 130,000 service members in Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, Djibouti, Qatar and Manas.
By the end of 2010, the group will have fed more than 170,000 troops in locations around the world. The group's most recent mission to Afghanistan was led by David Alvarado, OSI vice president of business services.
From Nov. 12-19, Alvarado and a platoon of 27 courageous volunteers delivered more than 32,000 steaks, 3,000 onions and 1,000 pounds of calamari to thousands of hungry troops and contractors at the Marine camps in Afghanistan's Helmand province.
The OSI mission was simple. According to Alvarado, “We're going to give our troops in Afghanistan a delicious taste of home!”
Alvarado proved good on his word, as the Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen of Regional Command Southwest were treated to a delicious and memorable meal, complete with "all the fixings."
In keeping with Outback Restaurant's Australian theme, more than one service member was heard asking the chef to "toss another steak on the barbie, mate!"
Thanks to the generous contributions of OSI and their vendors, the "Operation Feeding Freedom VIII" menu featured dishes such as the Outback Bloomin' Onion, and Carrabba’s Calamari. Also served were Outback's thick, juicy steaks, and Carrabba's signature pastas and Outback’s cheesecake. Hungry yet?
After this memorable meal, OSI teamed up with Armed Forces Entertainment to present an extra special after-dinner desert treat for the troops: a live performance by beautiful American Idol semi-finalist Ayla Brown.
Ayla happily met with thousands of service members, signed dozens of autographs, and posed for hundreds of photographs. She ate dinner with the troops, then took the stage to perform, delivering a two-hour, tour-de-force performance that was rewarded with thunderous applause from the audience.
Brown, on an Asia tour sponsored primarily by Ernie Boch Jr. and The Music Drives Us Foundation, thanked the troops on her web site, commenting, "You guys and women are ridiculously fun ... thank you for making this night so special for me and the band. And thanks to the two awesome guys who came up on stage to sing and play guitar. Rock on!"
Alvarado, Brown and the OSI volunteers were all up the next day at the crack of dawn. They donned flaks and helmets to travel from Camp Leatherneck, via the 3rd Marine Air Wing’s CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters, to stage repeat performances for thousands more troops and contractors at the two other Marine bases in southern Helmand province: Camp Dwyer and Camp Deleram II, headquarters of Regimental Combat Team 1 and 2, respectively.
“Everyone kept thanking us, everywhere we went," said an overwhelmed Alvarado. “We came here to thank them, yet they were thanking us. It's such an honor to make this trip for them. Words can not express our gratitude for their selfless service. The hospitality we received was truly remarkable.”
It was a fantastic week for everyone, but for one particular member of the OSI entourage, it was even more satisfying. OSI volunteer Pete Gannon, a former Lauderdale, Fla., battalion fire chief, and a Marine during the Vietnam War, participated in his first Operation Feeding Freedom trip. Not only is Pete a member if the Marine family, he is the brother of Outback co-founder Tim Gannon.
“I remember how grateful we were when the USO shows came to perform for us in Vietnam,” said Gannon, a former Marine corporal, 1966-69, with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. Gannon, who was so excited to feed the Marines this year, added, “I could barely sleep on the plane ride over! This was my chance to give back to the troops, and to my Marines. Marines are Marines forever!”
"Outback is very fortunate and proud to be able to serve our troops in this way," Alvarado added. "It is an honor knowing that we have brought a smile and boosted morale by providing a taste of home to the brave men and women that are representing our country overseas."
The Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen of Regional Command Southwest would like to express their eternal gratitude to OSI and Operation Feeding Freedom.
Thank you for tossing what seemed like a few million steaks on the barbie to feed the military men and women of America. Everything was just right!
This work, Operation Feeding Freedom VIII brings a delicious taste of home to troops in Afghanistan, by MSgt William Price, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.