One of the Army's largest bases has been barely able to keep its food services up and running for months, according to soldiers stationed there and dining facility schedules reviewed by Military.com.
The situation at Fort Cavazos, Texas -- previously known as Fort Hood -- has left some junior enlisted with few options for meals, as top officials on base struggle to juggle logistics while most of its cooks are on deployments, missions or serving field training and other events.
The base had only two of its 10 major dining options open every day for much of the summer, with three others open only during limited times. The closures forced many soldiers to drive long distances across base, sometimes an hour round trip for their meals.
But not all junior soldiers have vehicles, and the base provides only a limited shuttle service, with none dedicated to dining facilities. The service is so limited that some service members interviewed by Military.com didn't even know it exists.
"For months, one [dining facility] was open and was a more than 30-minute drive for my soldiers," said one noncommissioned officer, who spoke to Military.com on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press. "All the soldiers were going to that one. It's unmanageable during the workday."
In some situations, the base posted conflicting schedules or confusing guidance on what meals were being provided at which dining facilities. One facility had a sign on the door stating that it was "closed for dinner," but it didn't note which specific days it was closed or days when other meals were not available.
Base officials also did not post updated dining facility schedules on social media, although two of the base's dining facilities -- Iron Horse and Patriot -- were reopened in the past week, which should start alleviating traffic jams and logistical hurdles in providing more accessible meals for soldiers.
At the heart of the issue is the dining facilities not having enough Army cooks to run them. A rotation to the National Training Center, or NTC, and support for a cadet training exercise at Fort Knox, Kentucky, took many cooks off base.
Dining facilities have been a key focus in the Army's discussions on boosting the quality of life for soldiers.
That has included access to healthier foods and staffing those facilities with civilians so Army cooks can focus on feeding troops in the field.
However, the service has made no notable progress on those efforts.
Army officials are eyeing allowing soldiers to use their meal cards at non-military restaurants on base, such as Panera and Qdoba, an idea that is currently being piloted at Fort Drum, New York.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.