About 50 of the 26,000 National Guard troops deployed to the U.S. Capitol have been treated for gastrointestinal complaints since the start of their mission two months ago, Guard officials told Army Times on Wednesday.
It’s not clear how many of those cases are linked to the catered meals troops are provided during their deployment to Washington. However, the cases were acknowledged after Michigan Guardsmen at the Capitol complained to their home state news outlets about the under-cooked meat and contaminated food they were allegedly served.
The governor of Michigan said Tuesday that the quality of the food has improved since her office was first made aware of the issue days ago, but noted her disappointment that it arose in the first place.
Guard officials said they’ve taken steps to improve food quality and investigate the complaints, though they declined to say which food vendors were providing the catered meals.
“We examine the kitchens for safety and cleanliness. Vendor facilities have been inspected multiple times, and no substantial issues have been recorded,” said National Guard Bureau spokesman Wayne Hall. “Contracting personnel visit the D.C. Armory daily during the delivery of meals. We observe the deliveries, take pictures of the meals and talk to soldiers on the line about the food they get.”
Some of those visits are standard for catering contracts, but other inspections were prompted by specific complaints.
No Guard troops have been hospitalized because of an illness from catered food, according to Hall.
“Out of the 26,000 who were deployed and the 5,200 who remain, approximately 50 have been treated for gastrointestinal complaints,” Hall said. “Six of them were treated as outpatients at military treatment facilities; others were handled at aid stations set up as part of the Task Force.”
Those numbers have not been directly attributed to the food being served as part of contracts the National Guard Bureau has with food vendors. Regardless, the issue has grabbed the attention of lawmakers.
All 14 members of Michigan’s House delegation penned a letter Tuesday to National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson asking that he either find a new food vendor or provide troops per diem so that they can purchase food elsewhere.
The Michigan lawmakers said Guardsmen have “repeatedly and personally” complained directly to their offices.
“These reports include meals being provided that are badly undercooked, raw, moldy, and even filled with metal shavings,” the letter reads.
Guard officials inspected the vendor kitchen preparing those meals following reports of metal contaminants, said Hall.
“While no source was definitively determined, metal cleaning scourers used to scrub pots and pans were identified as a possibility,” he added. “All scours were discarded on the spot and new, non-metal scourers are now being used.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at a press conference Tuesday that she has spoken by phone with acting Army Secretary John Whitley about the food issues. She also asked her state’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, to visit D.C. to check on soldiers.
“Now, it is my understanding that the quality of the food has dramatically improved,” Whitmer said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s excusable that we had to take these actions to get to this point, but that is my understanding.”
Whitmer added that she does not plan to extend the deployment to D.C. for her state’s Guard units. The deployment is scheduled to end March 12. She did not say whether the food issues were at all factored into her decision.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer