The Marine Corps is aware that on-base dining leaves something to be desired and is planning big investments for feeding troops, according to top officials.

By the fall, the Corps has to study the quality of food and service on Marine bases and recommend improvements, according to a recent update to Talent Management 2030 — a 2021 document that lays out the service’s plan for modernizing personnel policies, with an eye toward retaining more Marines.

The low quality of dining makes it tougher for the Marine Corps to retain troops, the update acknowledges.

“In the future world of recruiting challenges, we cannot lose a 12-year intelligence professional or artillery Marine because we could not provide access to pediatric care or a high quality chow hall,” the update, released Monday, states.

The Marine Corps plans to spend heavily on improving quality of life for troops, Gen. Eric Smith, the assistant commandant, told reporters March 3.

“I won’t reveal the budget, because it’s not yet through the Office of Management and Budget, but you’ll see significant — I can say it will have a ‘B’ on the end of it — investment in things like barracks and chow halls,” said Smith, the second-in-command Marine.

Better dining would mean newer chow halls, shorter lines, better-quality food and more choices, according to Smith.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black, the senior enlisted Marine, noted Thursday that military dining facilities typically serve food through contracts with outside companies.

“So, is that the proper quality and quantity?” he told reporters in his office at the Pentagon. “By the contract, yes, because it’s inspectable, it’s provided. The real question is, ‘Is it what people want to eat?’ There’s a choice conversation to be had.”

The Marine Corps is considering using meal cards, which Marines could use at a variety of locations on base, akin to the dining system that many colleges have. The idea would be to make food both more varied and more convenient, Lt. Gen. James Glynn, deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, said March 3.

“Think about other examples of a dining hall card option, where you can get a full meal with your dining card at a chow hall, or you can get a reduced cost on a prepared meal at the Exchange, or you can go to the Quick Mart and pick up something, to a threshold,” Glynn told reporters. “Just like any other dining hall experience, it has a cap — how you use it is your choice.”

There are limits on how specialized the food on Marine bases can be, Smith noted, since it has to feed thousands of people.

“But you want options, and you want it to be fuel for an athlete, fuel for a professional,” he said. “And these are Marines. They’re adults. If they want to get a hamburger, that’s fine, too. We just want to make sure that all of the options are there for them.”

About 25.8% of troops were food-insecure in 2018, compared to 9% of civilians, a January RAND Corporation report found.

Food security means “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life,” according to a definition by the Department of Agriculture.

Some troops pay out of pocket for some of their meals rather than eat at military dining facilities, though the Defense Department isn’t sure the extent of that phenomenon.

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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