Gluten-Free in Afghanistan: An Army Soldier’s Story
In honor of Celiac Disease Awareness Month 2018,
A series of bites, barks, tail wags, face licks, and pant tugs from Gluten Free Watchdog
May 28, 2018
Gluten Free Watchdog Tail Wag, Post # 28
This is a repost of a portion of a column I used to write for the Medical Nutrition Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. CPT Andrasik’s book was written in 2012. Please keep this in mind when you read his words below.
Gluten-Free in Afghanistan by CPT B. Donald Andrasik is a personal account of what it is like to have celiac disease and eat gluten-free while being deployed in the Army.
CPT Andrasik writes in the book, “Before being deployed, the Army requires a person to have a meeting with a licensed dietician (sic). This is done in an old, drafty warehouse, tent, or other poorly ventilated facility. In a room full of chairs with a projector and screen at one end, the standard format is that an instructor gives a PowerPoint presentation to the whole unit…After the briefing on the basics of nutrition and healthy eating, I decided to ask the dietician specifics about maintaining a GF diet overseas. After approaching her and explaining CD and my GF diet, she responded with, “Holy sh**, you don’t actually have that, do you?’ followed by ‘good luck’ and an about face. Standing there looking at the back of her head did not inspire the confidence I sought prior to leaving the country for a year.”
A later meeting with the chief of nutrition services at an Army Medical Center also chronicled in the book appears to have been much more useful.
I have been communicating with CPT Andrasik. For this column I asked him, “What can dietitians in the Army do to help servicemen and women with celiac disease?”
Here is his unedited reply included here with permission:
“Army dietitians are well versed and fairly helpful when it comes to celiac disease (CD). They will meet with Soldiers and explain CD, coach them on what they can/cannot eat, and are both friendly and up to date with their information. In fact going back and rummaging through some literature given to me by the Army was a “Celiac Disease Nutrition Guide” written by you – so you know it’s good 😉
While the information the Army provides is solid, it is only provided to soldiers who request it; and, with most soldiers afraid of a celiac related discharge, the information is often left on the shelf. While I would encourage military dietitians to speak openly and aggressively about CD and encourage celiac soldiers to do the same, a true culture change of promotion & acceptance seems unlikely with this approach…
A more tactical approach for dietitians would be to attack the food process itself, and insist on FALCPA style labels on all dining facility food world wide. This would make eating for many service members much easier, and may inadvertently change the culture too. When a solider sees an allergen label (i.e. this food contains wheat) at a dining facility they probably will feel at ease, and able to talk about their needs. This in turn would make it much easier for celiacs, if not everyone, to be able to eat in the military. Now I know current FALCPA guidelines do not include gluten; but, I have my fingers crossed it will soon.
I also understand this will be a slow process; but, with the right amount of education and persistence maybe all public institutions will follow this same path.”
If you are interested in reading Gluten-Free in Afghanistan it is available from Amazon.