Task Force Tomachomp – Feeding the Hungry Bear
By Captain Hansen Tan
Posted on Monday July 10, 2017
It all started on a cold day on 5 March, when the 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (CMBG) Torch Party stepped off their plane in Cold Lake, Alberta. They were there for Exercise (Ex) MAPLE RESOLVE (MR) 2017, the Canadian Army’s largest and most complex training event. As work up training, 2 CMBG, based out of Petawawa, Ontario and Gagetown, New Brunswick, would participate in Ex RUGGED BEAR (RB) and Ex TOMAHAWK FURY (TF). Preparations for Ex MR is difficult to say the least; however, the fact that 2 CMBG would be there for two training exercises prior to it added additional challenges to the build. Camp Tomahawk would be expected to shelter and feed the soldiers of 2 CMBG for at least three months. Within this Torch Party were six people from 2 Service Battalion representing the Camp Food Services section. It would be their responsibility to take the lead on the creation of a centralized feeding complex capable of feeding Task Force Tomahawk, a force of over 4200 soldiers from all over the CAF, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
As one of the first steps to accommodate the amount of diners, the Torch Party would be required to stand up one kitchen complex of ten Mounted Kitchen Trailers (MKTs). With the completion of the line haul of vehicles and equipment from Garrison Petawawa to Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Wainwright, the trailers had become dispersed across various parking lots within the base. The cold weather, which approached -35 degrees Celsius on some days, presented another challenge; many of the standard military pattern vehicles, had not been run in months, and therefore required a boost. Even worse still was the difficulty in getting to the vehicles to jump start them, as many were closely parked next to each other and required adjacent vehicles to be moved before they could be accessed. Despite these challenges, the Food Services section worked with maintenance personnel in the Torch Party to succeed in moving all of the kitchen equipment from the base into the camp, known as P-12, in the CFB Wainwright training area within three days. More issues arose when the build had to be constantly shifted to comply with engineering requirements with electrical wiring, as well as plumbing, health, and safety regulations. Within two weeks and with the arrival of nine additional production staff, the construction of the first kitchen complex was completed, with a capacity of 250. This happened, of course, while the staff also concurrently worked on the stand up of a second kitchen facility with ten additional MKTs to support the impending arrival of the thousands of personnel from the Main Body.
Although the build was delayed for four days by a wind storm that had scattered tents all over P-12, the tasks continued. The Main Body started arriving on 20 March and, by 4 April, 2 CMBG was prepared for their first training exercise, Ex RB. To support the soldiers of 2 CMBG during this first exercise, the Camp Tomahawk Food Services section required its two kitchen complexes be at full operational capacity to serve four meals a day to include a late night meal for personnel on shift work. At its peak, the two complexes were fully manned with fifty cooks and thirty-two general duties (GD) staff from units all over 2 CMBG and were able to feed 3000 people. The initial success for the Food Services team would be short-lived, however. With the transition to the second training exercise, Ex TF, came a shift in the Brigade feeding plan from centralized feeding in P-12 to dispersed feeding in the training area. This caused constraints on the team, as they now had to make dispersed haybox meals (bulk meals served from thermos boxes) for breakfast and supper in support of the participants of the exercise while maintaining regular camp feeding. Very quickly, the Camp Tomahawk Food Services section was mobilized to prepare and issue over 4000 haybox meals for over 2000 soldiers on a daily basis. To make this happen, cooks from the rank of Private all the way up to Sergeant were pushed to the production line to get the food out to the troops in the field.
At the conclusion of Ex TF, the soldiers of 2 CMBG would see a period of rest and relaxation leave. This was welcomed by the cooks of Camp Tomahawk, even though there remained a requirement for Food Services staff to work on a rotational basis to sustain feeding of the personnel that had remained in P-12. The break would be brief, however, as soldiers from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand started arriving. This included the deployment of aviators from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) that would provide support to Ex MR in the nearby air field, known as Air Field 21 (AF-21). This, of course, necessitated the construction of a third kitchen complex with ten additional MKTs, along with supplemental cooks and GD staff, who were brought in from bases all over Canada. Two additional cooks from the Princess Wales Royal Regiment based out of the United Kingdom also arrived to augment. In total, the three kitchen complexes were manned by over sixty-five cooks and fifty GD staff – only enough to sustain roughly 3700 diners. By 5 May, AF-21 served its first meal. When all the participants of Ex MR arrived, the two kitchen complexes in P-12 fed upwards of 3300 personnel per meal and the AF-21 kitchen complex fed upwards of 600 personnel per meal. Because of the manning issues, the cooks of the kitchen complexes were required to work upwards of fourteen hours during their shifts. Despite this, the quality of the food remained high and the staff were still able to boost the morale of the soldiers of Task Force Tomahawk with special events such as steak nights and banana split bars. Undoubtedly, the troops returning from the field appreciated the fresh food put on by the cooks of 2 CMBG and took advantage of it when they could.
With the conclusion of Ex MR, the redeployment of 2 CMBG would begin. The size of the kitchen complexes made it difficult to stand up – the teardown of it would be as equally complicated. The phased approach to the redeployment of 2 CMBG and its allies back home demanded that feeding be sustained for anyone who would not be part of the approximately 180 people leaving the camp each day. Camp Tomahawk would have to be scaled down bit by bit while, at the same time, maintaining essential services. Unfortunately, this meant that some cooks, having been in Wainwright since 5 March, would not leave until 12 June to facilitate the teardown of the kitchen complexes. The first of these to shut down would be the AF-21 complex, to coincide with the exit of the RCAF for Ex MAPLE FLAG on 1 June. Subsequently, the first complex in P-12 was shut down on 3 June as more of the Brigade left the camp. Finally, with only the Rear Party remaining, the last complex shut down several days later on 9 June. By that time, equipment from the last complex was moved from P-12 back to the base on the same roads that, while once covered in snow, were now loose, dusty gravel. After a thorough cleaning, these vehicles and trailers would then be dispatched to the same separate parking lots from where they had come to be shipped back to their units in Petawawa and Gagetown. By 12 June, Camp Tomahawk had shut down. Two white tents stand where the kitchen complexes used to be, cleared of the tables and benches where thousands of people once ate their meals. In total, 515,707 meals, or $2.67 million worth of food, was served out of these tents.
The workload demanded of Food Services is unabating as, even when manoeuvre units get down time, kitchen facilities remain unrelieved. For many of the Camp Tomahawk cooks, the end of the Ex MR did not just mean rest and relaxation. Postings, change of command parades, mess dinners, and shifts in base kitchens awaited many as they got home. Overall, despite all of the challenges faced by the cooks, they persevered through their three months in Wainwright and impressed Canadian and allied soldiers alike with their craft. It has been said that soldiers march on their stomachs and the soldiers that participated in Ex MR were certainly no exception.