Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top Chefs

Top Chefs SGT C (Right) and SPC P (Left) (two of five of the day shift)

Up in the morning, 'fore day;
I don't like it, no way.
Eat my breakfast too damn soon;
Hungry as hell, by noon.
Went to the Mess Sgt on my knees;
Said, Mess Sgt, Mess Sgt, feed me please.
Mess Sgt said, with a big ol' grin;
If you want to be One-oh-one, you gotta be thin.

The above running cadence says "Mess Sgt" because that's where Soldiers went to eat chow: at the mess hall.

At least, they did when I first learned the cadence in Basic Training at Fort Lost-in-the-Woods, Misery (that would be Fort Leonard Wood, MO to you non-Army types) back in June of 1983.

But when I came back into the Army in '09, when we were talking about the chow, I kept hearing people refer to the "Dee Fack". I was truly puzzled until I asked someone and they explained that the DFAC was the Dining Facility - somehow, in the short 19-odd years I was out of the Army, ‘mess hall’ changed to ‘DFAC’.

I've been back in the Army for almost four years now and I still haven't made the adjustment; I still refer to the mess hall and do a mini-mental adjustment whenever I hear someone say DFAC - just one of the many things that sets me apart as an "old school" Soldier.

Here in Bagram, and in most of Afghanistan, the people who cook/serve the food and keep the mess hall clean are not Soldiers at all, but civilians. Typically locals, eg Afghans, hired by whatever company the Army has contracted to provide food services.

There are several mess halls scattered throughout Bagram and each meal is served for several hours - they almost all also offer midnight chow (everyone still calls meals "chow" so why DFAC?!?) so there is plenty of chances to eat.

The issue, sometimes, can be the time to eat. Where me and many of my unit's Soldiers work is just far enough from the closest mess hall that at lunch time it would take at least an hour to walk, wait in line, eat, and walk back.

Even though we are working an average of 10-12 hour days (I can just hear some of the Soldiers here saying "you just work 10 hours?!?") taking well over an hour out the work schedule to get chow is just not acceptable and could negatively impact the mission.

So, since Mohammad can't get to the mountain (in a timely manner), our leadership has arranged to bring the mountain to Mohammad - in the form of Mermites.

Not termites, not
vegemites, but Mermites - large insulated aluminum canisters with a rubber gasket between the lid and base; basically, military grade Tupperware.

Twice a day, once for lunch and one for midnight chow, a handful of Soldiers drawn from units working in the immediate area go to the civilian mess hall and load up a truck with Mermites full of something like Swedish Meatballs, Ham (usually there is two types of
meat offered), macaroni and cheese, and corn.
They might also grab a box or two of mixed fruits such as pygmy pears, Granny Smiths and oranges. But they always bring back loads of various types of pies, cakes and cookies.

The Soldiers bring the chow back to a rectangular wooden building that was commandeered and set-up with acquired dining tables and chairs along with an electric cooler for drinks.

They set-up the Mermites, lay out the desserts, ensure the cooler is fully stocked, and open the door to the Soldiers who have already lined up; hands-washed and ready to eat.

After a couple of hours, the mess hall closes, gets cleaned, and the mostly empty Mermites get loaded up and get returned to the civilian mess hall.

And the Soldiers who did all the hauling, serving and cleaning?

Once the mess hall work is done, they go back to their real jobs; such as
94R Avionic and Survivability Equipment Repairer or 15D Aircraft Powertrain Repairer.

The mess hall tasking gets rotated so the same Soldiers have it just about every day for a couple of weeks and then some different Soldiers take over for a couple of weeks.

But I have noticed a couple things stay pretty regular and consistent - the service is always with a smile and a maybe a joke; the drinks' cooler is constantly restocked; desserts are sliced and laid-out just as quickly as they are put on plates and; the Soldiers obviously take pride in doing a good job ensuring their buddies are well fed.

So, while they may not be cooks by trade or training, in my opinion, those Soldiers are all Top Chefs.


@ Charity S. of hockey fame – Your emails bring me a smile but the chocolate got a huge “yahoo!”; the combo of treats was perfect and not melted at all.  I kept the beef jerky for myself but everything else got distributed to people in my work area and a big box went to the Medics and their “customers”.  I read the magazines in one sitting and gave them to other hungry readers.
@ Vivian and the rest of Ms Soto’s Big Spring’s Elementary 3rd Grade Class – glad to hear you liked my letter and I look forward to receiving your art work.
@ Kim W. of Cheney, KS – a certain 1SG loves popcorn and workers in my area now have PopTarts for breakfast.  Thank you for the sparkly black-cat and looking into supporting CITH – it is truly a good cause.
@ 10 y/o Madeline of Knolls Afterschool Club in Simi Valley, CA – thank you for the Halloween Greetings - scary blue-skull pirate!
@ www.ForTheTroops.org and volunteer Catherine M. – the people who deliver the mail had me come to them for the giant three boxes; every person in my Platoon got a box and there was two left over I gave to Soldier’s in my Company; they all extend their sincere gratitude for the Care Package and your ongoing support.
@ Helen C. and Dustin B. of the San Francisco, CA “Virgin Angels”; thank you for your letters and sharing stories of your lives back home.  If you click on the “send a package” link on the upper right there is a list of current requests.  Please expect a snaaaaaaiiil-mail letter back from me.

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