|BEIRUT, Lebanon, Aug. 14, 2006 — To American civilians, eating a meal ready-to-eat, or MRE, can be an intimidating prospect. It’s handed to them cased in a non-descript brown sleeve, not unlike certain types of discreet mail.
Once opened, its contents are filled with individual packages, chemical heaters and official-sounding foods like “fortified applesauce.”
With a family in tow, a war on their heels and military transit to look forward to, nearly 14,000 Americans faced the additional daunting task of MRE dining before their authorized departure from Beirut, Lebanon, earlier this month.
Making that task just a little easier were Marines like Cpl. Justin Muir, a combat engineer with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group and a native of Canastota, N.Y.
To thousands of people, and especially the kids he helped, he’ll forever be known as “Chef Muir” because of his professionalism in dealing with crowds unaccustomed to eating military-style cuisine, an experience he says “sticks out because it was fun.”
“They started calling me ‘Chef Muir’ because of the classes I was teaching on eating the MREs. I did my best trying to make a difference,” explained the gregarious Muir, who was one of 36 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Marines operating the evacuation control center located at the port facility in Beirut, near the American embassy. “I know I got them out of harm’s way and that’s about it. I’m just doing my job.”
For nearly two weeks, Marines like Muir began “just doing their job” before sunrise and worked constantly to ensure the rapid processing and departure of everyone scrambling to escape the coming storm.
According to 1st Lt. Jeffrey Bayse, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit disbursing officer and ECC officer-in-charge, the operation could not have gone better.
“These Marines came from 20 different (military occupational specialties), and this wasn’t their job,” said Bayse, a Roanoke, Va., native. “They performed the second largest evacuation of Americans in history with as much success as you can have. All in all, this is the most impressed I’ve been with Marines in my 14 years of service.”
Bayse said that the skill of the Marines became evident when they began to process twice as many people as their procedures call for – a difference of 100 additional people an hour.
Stretched across a 10-day period, more than 1,000 more people were able to escape to safety earlier than planned.
He said that the Marines’ dedication to the mission was never more apparent than when they learned they would be returning to the USS Iwo Jima.