A food contract between a supplier and the National Guard did not provide enough meals, forcing units still deployed to Washington, D.C., to buy local, Military.com has learned.
Because of the mix-up and shortage of meals, the Guard resorted to buying "a large quantity of various food choices off of the local economy," according to Army Maj. Aaron Thacker, a Guard Bureau spokesman.
There was never a risk of a food shortage, he emphasized.
"There are contingencies to the master feeding plan that are put in motion in the event that the primary feeding plan has an issue," Thacker said in an email Thursday, adding there were also "tens of thousands" of Meals, Ready-to-Eat on hand if necessary. Further details into how much the Guard spent on local restaurants and providers and how many members were given these meals over contractor-provided food were not immediately available.
Guardsmen were spotted eating Chick-fil-A this week. Thacker noted that the USO has partnerships with restaurants and other businesses and offered the Guard support, although this was not used for main subsistence.
"Corporations and other groups make donations to the USO ... and the USO decides how to offer those donations as support to the military," he said. "[But] those donations are not a replacement for any food provided by the military -- it is only a supplement to boost morale."
In an unrelated effort started early in the deployment, 18 restaurants around Capitol Hill donated meals to troops -- from pizza to burgers to doughnuts. Some, including local chain We the Pizza, offered residents the chance to donate pizzas to the troops at $3 per head.
Nearly 26,000 Guard troops from every state and territory deployed to the D.C. region for President Joe Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration after a mob of President Donald Trump supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The National Guard presence in Washington will decrease to about 7,000 by the end of this week, Gen. Dan Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said Monday, but about 5,000 will remain in the district until at least mid-March.
A contract solicitation from the D.C. National Guard published Jan. 16 shows the Guard's plan to provide "grab and go meals" for troops through the end of the month, as Guard numbers in the district drop week over week.
"The District of Columbia National Guard requests the procurement of meals for 25,000 personnel (22-24 Jan 2021), 21,000 personnel (25 Jan 2021), and 10,000 personnel (26-31 Jan 2021) activated in support of the current civil unrest within the district," the solicitation reads. "This includes three meals per person per day (Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner), to be delivered to the DC Armory, from 22-31 January 2021."
The claim that Guard troops were short of meals first surfaced on social media. In a since-deleted Nextdoor post, a northern Virginia resident asked neighbors whether they knew of any restaurants or organizations willing to work with the Guard to provide food, citing a lack of supplies that particularly affected troops self-isolating in hotel rooms after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Military.com reached out to Guardsmen deployed to D.C., some of whom said the food situation was initially "not great," citing incidents in which rations delivered to hotel rooms were delayed. But the troops, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said these appeared to be isolated incidents, not systemic problems.
When asked whether Guardsmen were leaving quarters to get food on their own, Thacker said he was unaware of any Guard members in quarantine leaving their quarters. Guard members in hotel rooms have a unit representative assigned to check in on them and are given meals three times daily, he said.
"The military is a tiered system of leadership where individuals always have someone looking out for them," he said. "If someone did not receive food, there are two-way lines of communication between that individual and a first-line leader who is responsible for the health and welfare of that individual and to help resolve any issues."
Almost 200 National Guard members have tested positive for COVID-19, Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the District of Columbia National Guard, said Monday.
Those who test positive are quarantined and won't return to their home states until they're fully recovered, Hokanson added. The two leaders did not disclose how many troops are currently in self-quarantine for the 14-day isolation period.
Photos leaked to media outlets last week showed dozens of troops resting on the floor of a parking garage, resulting in outcry from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
One Guard member told Politico, which first reported the story, that it was nearly impossible to social distance in such tight spaces. After lawmakers complained, Guard members were allowed to return to the Capitol for their breaks.
Troops will continue to be provided with food until the mission concludes at the end of March, Thacker said. The Guard has no plan to set up any sort of field dining facility, though -- that would fall afoul of safety guidelines limiting mass gatherings, he said.
Guardsmen in D.C. have been mobilized under Title 32 orders, which puts them under their state's control while receiving pay and benefits from the federal government. As a result, troops don't receive any per diem or stipend to use for food, Thacker said.
Ahead of the inauguration on Jan. 20, famed chef José Andrés and staff with his nonprofit, the World Central Kitchen, were seen dropping off food to Guard members patrolling Capitol grounds. D.C residents were also quick to volunteer donations, including food and comfort items.
But officials this week once again said that, while these gifts are well-intentioned, the Guard cannot accept donations.
-- Gina Harkins and Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.