The National Guard said Monday the head of the U.S. Army has ordered a preliminary inquiry into claims that bad food was served to troops providing security at the U.S. Capitol.
Acting Secretary of the Army John E. Whitley on March 3 directed Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the District of Columbia National Guard, to conduct the preliminary inquiry concerning “allegations of the inadequate provision of food” for the service members, according to a spokesman for the Joint Task Force at the Capitol.
“We will not discuss the details of the ongoing inquiry,” said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Robert Carver.
The purposes of a preliminary inquiry under Army regulations could include ascertaining the scope of the problem, identifying and interviewing witnesses, and determining whether a more extensive investigation is warranted, Carver said.
The guard has said at least 50 troops were sickened with gastrointestinal illness after complaints that they were served undercooked or poor quality food by a military contractor.
None of those sickened have been hospitalized due to illness from the food since the Capitol security mission began Jan. 6; however, some have been treated at hospitals, a guard spokesman said.
Nearly 1,000 Michigan troops are among 5,200 serving at the Capitol to help local and federal law enforcement with security in the wake of the deadly attack on the building on Jan. 6.
Dozens of them have complained since mid-February about the food they were served, ranging from undercooked meat to poor food quality to a lack of vegetarian options.
Lawmakers in Washington and Lansing, in addition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have called on the National Guard to void the $11.4 million food service contract with Sardi’s Catering in College Park, Maryland — the vendor providing meals to the troops three times a day. They want the military to pay the troops a per diem for their meals.
The National Guard Bureau has said it’s is continuing with the current food service contract and the vendor — a position the Pentagon press secretary reiterated Monday.
The guard has maintained that the problem is not systemic and limited to a fraction of over 1.2 million meals served since Jan. 6.
Sardi’s has defended its food service and claims that none of the cases of reported gastrointestinal illness among soldiers have been linked to the company.
National Guard inspectors are visiting the vendor’s facilities and kitchens to conduct spot checks and ensure safe and sanitary food preparation and packaging in compliance with federal regulations, the company said.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited Washington and lunched with members of the Michigan guard Friday. She said afterward that the troops told her their catered meals had improved but not by much, calling the situation “unacceptable.”
“We have been raising this to the highest levels of the military for quite a while, and I’m told it’s marginally better but not a lot. It’s very disappointing,” Whitmer told The Detroit News.
Whitmer called Whitley about the food on Feb. 18 after the complaints first started.
“I think we owe it to our guards women and men to treat them well and with respect when they’re doing such important work, so it is something that I’m very concerned about.”
Whitmer said this week she has no intention of agreeing to extend the Michigan troop’s deployment in Washington when it ends March 12.
(c) 2021 The Detroit News
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.