11 August 2010

The Army Camping Trip And The Unusual Dining Experience...

I have mentioned the differences between the service branches before but I was remembering a recent conversation from our vacation and a post I did a very long time ago and, as always when I think of these kinds of things, it made me laugh. So I am going to share the memory.

[As an aside, my first duty station had mostly officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Canadian military forces so my first taste of chow hall food was not a good barometer of what could be experienced by the average airman at a regular Air Force Base. Enlisted members of any service are not normally served food as well as the officers but that just comes with the territory.]
And so the memory begins with 'Once upon a time...'

When I joined the Air Force, I didn't have to worry about such menial tasks such as grocery shopping.  I lived in the barracks and ate most of my meals at the chow hall either at the military facility I had lived at or the different military facility that I had worked at.  At that time, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that most chow halls of any service were NOT anything like what I was fortunate enough to partake in at that time. I was at a command level base and the food was plentiful, had variety, and was cooked right just about every time.

I got my first inkling of the differences when, after a couple of months of being stationed there, we had a group of Army soldiers visit our base enlisted chow hall for lunch. It looked like they had just come in from a very long exercise out in the field. They were muddy, tired and very, very hungry. (If you were one of those unfortunate souls that had been standing in line ahead of me that day, please forgive me for this description. You can't imagine how your conversations are forever permanently etched in my memory.)

Anyway, I was, of course, in line behind all of these soldiers.
As I am waiting for my turn, I hear, from the front of the line, an incredulous voice ask, "What do you mean 'What do I want?' You mean we get a choice?"
Wow. I'm thinking that maybe they only serve one thing at their chow halls, maybe they eat mostly rations... or maybe, their chow hall is more like a homeless soup kitchen?
My mind is imagining worse and worse scenarios when I hear (in an even louder, more astounded voice) "What do you mean 'How do I want it cooked?'"
Hmmm. Now I'm definitely wondering what kind of meals they were used to.
Then I hear the same soldier say, in what clearly starts out in an antagonistic manner only to suddenly sound like nirvana had unexpectedly been achieved, "Look, just serve me what you have the most of.  If I have a choice I would rather have something burnt than raw.  Wait a minute... is that a steak?
There was a split second of silence and then I notice all the soldiers were starting to look worriedly around like they were expecting to be reprimanded for some heinous crime.
In a much more respectful tone, the first soldier says to the cook, "Is this the officer's mess? Are we in the wrong chow hall?"
(The sight of these soldiers, standing with rapt attention on this one soldier at the head of the line, waiting to hear the answer to his question was what really burned this memory into my grey matter.  The looks on their faces were priceless.  It was like they were expecting to hear that they were in the wrong place, but the hope on their faces...  Well, I don't think I could ever adequately describe it.)

By this time the poor cook behind the counter was sounding more and more frustrated.

Offended, I heard him snarl, "You are in the right chow hall.  I do not burn my food nor do I serve it raw!  The steaks are medium rare and yes, you get a choice as long as you make it snappy!"
My estimation of the survival instincts of these gentlemen soared when, the lead soldier having finally come out of his stupor, hastily ordered a mound of food to be followed in what had to be the fastest moving line of soldiers I had ever seen. I caught sight of the first soldier reverently holding his tray up to his nose as he made his way to a table.

So I finally get my lunch and start heading to an empty table, sure that I couldn't be any more astonished, when I see a group of soldiers surrounding the self-serve ice cream machine.

One of them announced with an abundant amount of glee, "Hey, you can get chocolate and vanilla soft serve here and there are 'fixins' to make a sunday at the end of the salad bar!"
You may think I am exaggerating this story but I swear this is exactly what happened.  I was amazed.  I finally went over to the table where the lead soldier was sitting (staying downwind and out of his immediate reach). He was inhaling his food like it was his last meal, hunched over his arms wrapped protectively around his tray as if to defend it against any who might even look like they wanted to relieve him of it. (I was pretty sure if a limb came within his range, the owner of said limb would have been pulling back a stump...)  It turns out that these guys had been down range training for about a month without a meal that had not been eaten out of can or plastic pouch.

I didn't bother to tell him that the chow hall I went to at work was a joint officer and enlisted mess and that since General Officers (yes, the ones with the stars) went there daily, we could get often steak for breakfast, lobster tails and shrimp cocktail for lunch or dinner. (Among many other things) Why ruin his day?  I left him to enjoy his spoils of war, so to speak.

Years later, when I finally PCS'd (permanent change of station) to another base, I discovered how the rest of the Air Force ate.  I thought it still was a whole lot better than the Army since I figured we had at least two food choices and, for the most part, nothing was raw or burnt, but it was definitely not on the same level as the chow halls at my first duty station.

I think about this now when I have one child who does not like to eat just about everything I make.  Some days it makes me want to really encourage her to join the Army...

QOTD: “The army from Asia introduced a foreign luxury to Rome; it was then the meals began to require more dishes and more expenditure . . . the cook, who had up to that time been employed as a slave of low price, become dear: what had been nothing but a m├ętier was elevated to an art.” Livy (Titus Livius), Roman historian (59-17 B.C.) The Annals of the Roman People


  1. I have a son going through the 'ewwwwwwwww' stage. If it is not chicken nuggets or chicken cordon blue, it must be HORRIBLE. Maybe they could join the army together. ;-)

  2. That was funny!

    Junior and Abs will never eat enough to join the Army. I doubt they could survive on string cheese and yogurt!

  3. VWBug - Yes, yes, YES!!! :o)

    ABW - I do know that if you are too skinny they won't let you enlist but if you are straddling the line, they'll let you join but you have to get put on the 'skinny boy' program where it is mandatory for you to make it to EVERY meal and eat EVERYTHING on your tray. (my husband experienced that and it definitely isn't as great as you might think. He hated it. Nowadays he doesn't have to worry about being too skinny. Aging does wonders for the waistline.)

  4. Oh, I love it!

    Air Force Guy still eats with his arms around his food, a left over from when he was Army Guy. I tease him about it, but I guess it's one of those things that never leaves you.

  5. AFW - Yes, but did you ever try to take his plate from him? I'm guessing the answer is no because you are still in possession of all your limbs... ;O)

  6. My Dad is a retired Naval Officer. He got an appointment to Annapolis, or he'd not have gone to college. It was his only way and hey, who can argue? A GREAT education and they only wanted his soul for a few years.

    He was the Ops officer on a carrier probably midway through his career when he made the acquaintance of a guy who became a really good friend, permanently. One day over dinner his friend had said he'd originally enlisted in the Navy. One day he passed the Officer's mess and there were linens on the table and crystal salt and pepper shakers and the food was amazing and there was waitstaff. He said, "THAT is where *I* belong..." and he firmly set about becoming an officer.

    Over food. And how it was served.

    He made a great officer, btw. He'd been on both ends of the spectrum and was a great leader. He knew how to lead, but understood the dreams and hopes of those he led, better than most.

  7. Bou - That must have been the downside of my food service having been pretty dang good... I didn't have to hunt and gather very far from my front door.


Contents from normal neural synapsis goes here....
Should unnatural neural synapsis occur? Take one cherry chocolate Hershey Kiss and carry on.
Should NO neural synapsis occur? Take two full strength chocolate Hershey Kisses and
try again in the morning.