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31st MEU

Photo by Cpl. Joseph Digirolamo

Marines work overtime for their food

7 May 2006 | Cpl. Joseph Digirolamo

A tall young Marine wielding a shovel in one hand and an empty burlap bag in the other casts an ominous shadow over a massive pile of sand separating him from a hot meal.

Underneath the hot desert sun he quietly fills the bag, one scoop of sand after the other.  He knows if he wants something to eat he’s going to have to work for it.

The 21-year-old corporal is deployed with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, currently operating in Ramadi, the Al Anbar provincial capital, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is adhering to the Battalion’s new policy – one sandbag equals one meal.

“I have no problem doing it,” said Cpl. Brandon J. Kelley, an infantryman working in the combat operations center for the Battalion. “I’m doing my part like everyone else.”

This new rule only affects the Marines working out of Hurricane Point. The surrounding bases such as Camp Ramadi and Camp Blue Diamond only require servicemembers to wash their hands before entering the chow hall. Unlike at those mess halls, Kelley and all other Marines working here first must get their hands dirty.

This new sandbag program is strictly enforced by the unit and regulated by the cooks. It is all part of an effort to help aid the reconstruction and fortification of various Marine observation sites in and around the city of Western Ramadi. 

The high demand for sandbags is partially due to recent damages to posts caused by attacks. Insurgents have damaged multiple outposts using suicide car bombs, mortars, rockets, and medium machinegun and small arms fire. Enemy attacks have failed to cause any serious injuries, in large part due to the force protection measures that were in place and the fierce fighting spirit of the men. The “sandbag for food” program helps ensure the trend continues. 

Cpl. Matthew B. Cree, a 22-year-old infantryman from New Kent, Va., knows how important sandbags can be.

“I will never complain about making sandbags,” said Cree. “One sandbag before chow is awesome … it’s saving lives.”

Combat engineers and other Marines with the battalion continually work around the clock on improving the damaged posts, and they all agree the new program is definitely speeding up the process.

The program gives every Marine, sailor, soldier and civilian working on base another opportunity to directly contribute to the war effort. They are all doing their part to pitch in, or in this case, dig in.

As simple as filling a single sandbag before a meal adds up. The Hurricane Point mess hall estimates 450 meals are served to personnel three times a day. This amounts to approximately 1,350 sandbags daily.

“It’s a whole lot better than filling up all those sandbags at once in the hot sun,” said Pfc. Sam H. Morris, an 18-year-old motor transport operator, Headquarters and Service Company. “It cuts down on the workload Marines have to do during working parties.… it gives them more free time.”

Marines load up tons of sandbags onto a military seven-ton truck each day. The Marines then deliver them to areas where insurgent activity is high, such as the Government Center.

“The program produces two times the amount of sandbags a working party can do in a day,” added Morris, a native of New Port Richey, Fla.

Before entering the mess hall, hungry military personnel are greeted by two dirt piles stacked as high as 10 feet. Also, signs are posted completely around the immediate area reminding Marines to do their part.

The signs read, “One meal equals one filled sandbag – Thanks, from the Marine or Sailor saved by your sandbag.”

Seniority does not matter: anyone who wants to eat must first break a sweat. Even the battalion commander and sergeant major dig, too.

“This allows everyone to do their share,” said Kelley, a native of Lee, N.H. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a colonel or a private, everyone helps out.”

The program is not taken lightly by anyone.  April 7, the inspector general of the Marine Corps, Maj. Gen. David Bice, visited the base; he too filled a sandbag before grabbing some dinner. 

Lance Cpl. Daveanand Durga, a 21-year-old administration clerk from New Brunswick, N.J., describes the program as more a blessing than a burden.

“Who knows whether the sandbag I filled for a meal might be the one that stops that piece of shrapnel from injuring or killing someone,” he said.