This is about Veteran's Day and military chow, not necessarily in that order. First, to those of “The Forgotten War” – Korea, and those who made it back from Vietnam, welcome home. To all the other Vets out there, happy Veteran's Day, happy Armistice Day, and let's all hope someone in the government finally realizes you can't force democracy on people and quits sending our best and brightest off to die for those who could care less and burn American flags at the drop of a hat. Finally, “The Examiner” editors tell me to “distance myself” from the article and not use “I,” “me,” or “you,” however, the military and war are very personal to me ergo, despite the pogue who will edit this and wet his/her pants, I will disregard their rule this once and take my score of “3” or lower with my head held high.
Rats (not of the rodent variety)
Many have had the opportunity to dine on Uncle Sam's fine food, some on K-rats, some on C-Rats, or more recently, MRE's. I never got to try the c-rats, but feasted upon the spaghetti and meat balls featured in the K-rats. Nice little olive drab tins of cheese spread and spaghetti (very good even though the meal was a Vietnam leftover), two cigarettes, toilet paper, and matches. The meal wasn't bad, very filling, and enough calories to keep a GI going for the rest of the day. MREs, or “Meal, Ready to Eat” started out as the nastiest mess in a pouch one could ever come across. I remember a cartoon on the wall at supply, there were two flies, one on the wall, the other on a strip of meat from an MRE. The fly on the meat tells the fly on the wall, “Ugh a pork patty, let's go back to the shit-house for dinner.” That was the sad truth, though to be fair the cheese (now in a small squeeze pouch) was still excellent (the cracker to eat it on was virtually indestructible). Part way through DESERT STORM, the government came out with new and wondrous MREs, the best being the ham slice, ham and scalloped potatoes, and barbecued pork and meatballs. The worst was dubbed the “ham and death loaf” by one of my compatriots and the omelet wasn't fit to serve on death row. The cheese was put off limits because the packaging wasn't adequate and it went bad under the hot Bahrain sun. The sun could be one's friend though – I'd pull the meal packet out of the pouch, toss it on the vestibule of the tent, jaw with my buddies for about 10 minutes, and by then my meal was piping hot.
Marching on our stomachs
There were other options. We could dine at the Bahrain Air Force (yes, they have one) mess hall, which wasn't bad. Breakfast was one hard-boiled egg, baked beans (excuse the pork), and toast. AS for lunch and dinner if not a big fan of curry you were SOL. It was usually a piece of some dead animal in a rich curry sauce, actually very good, though after a few weeks of curry I was ready for something else. The Air Force (ours) had a field kitchen, and though jokingly referred to as the “Choke and Puke Stand,” did a good job despite the conditions. Breakfast was the best as the custom omelets were great (war is hell), the rest of the day was pretty much hamburgers. Probably top of the heap was the Marine field kitchen – they even had bacon and pork sausage, thumbing their nose at the local sensibilities.
Beyond the mess hall
My love of food isn't based on the military chow, though I never had a bad meal while in Uncle Sugar's care. The time spent overseas, however, did have an impact. Panama, Europe (especially Italy), Korea, and the Philippines were experiences that really opened my eyes to different cultures and the food which defines them. After my stint in Taegu, Korea and my exposure to Philippine cooking in Angeles City I was inspired to cook myself – when I got home I took over the kitchen and never looked back.
This Veteran's Day I'll hang up my POW/MIA flag, toss some ribs and corn on the grill and sit back to think back on my time in the military, the people I met and worked with from all the different services, and at 1100hrs face East for a moment of silence dedicated to those who thought they had just fought the war to end all wars, and wishing they had been right.