We have a weekly playlist of sorts at the DFAC here at our undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. The DFAC is short for Dining Facility, better known as the Chow Hall, where many a culinary sin has been committed over the years. It dawns on me as I write this, that food is an easy target for a rant, so forgive me for taking the easy road tonight.
They seem to have it dialed in pretty well here lately, far better than what I remember from the last time I was here, certainly a vast improvement over our first deployed location in Kerblackistan. Before coming over here I remember hoping they still serve bread pudding in the desert line. That was some powerful good bread pudding to stand out over the course of 5-6 years being away from it, but things that tantalize the senses never seem to escape memory.
Growing up and watching MASH on TV, one of my favorite scenes was when Hawkeye had reached his wits end with the quality of food in the mess tent. He went on a tirade, claiming he’d had “a river of liver and an ocean of fish… These beans are so old they’re has beans.” I recall reaching that point a few times during our first two deployments in 2003-04, between the ever changing dress and appearance regulation and the never changing menu.
When the war first kicked off for us, we didn’t know how good we had it. We deployed to an old Russian Republic, lived in tents and could drink 2 or 3 beers a day. Other than when we were on duty, we were allowed to wear whatever we wanted, honestly. As the war wore on the higher-ups realized that giving individuals the choice to wear what they wanted was a bad idea; girls were getting more and more scantily clad as they learned that their scanty cladding brought them a lot more attention than it might in other circumstances, or locales. Guys were pretty much just happy to do a quick sniff test and throw something on that was clean enough last time they took it off; we were also thankful for the scanty cladding in most cases, sometimes location just doesn’t make much difference.
The dress and appearance reg was more of a living document than a foundation from which to deviate. The chow hall in Kerblackistan was an indiqatar species of sorts, the precursor to the winds of change that would sweep over the greater Air Force. It started with our footwear, no flip flops, and then no sandals without heel straps, then no sandals, then no socks meant no service, and then I just started not going to chow because I couldn’t keep up with all the change and grew weary of being turned away for being out of regs; that, and the food sucked.
I remember at one point early in our first deployment, hearing that we wouldn’t be getting any fresh fruit because, and I quote almost directly, “a gang of bandits had hijacked the convoy hauling our produce in from Moscow!” I also remember wondering aloud one day if I could eat PB and Js or MREs for 45 straight days after throwing my hands up in disgust at whatever gustative atrocity lay before me, slopped upon my tray.
Times have changed though, and I think they’ve got most of the kinks ironed out of this whole going to war stuff. Dress and appearance is a no brainer, they’ve taken all the guess work out of it for us. We have very specific guidelines dictating what we can wear, for which I’m thankful. As a pilot, I’m not one blessed with the gift of fashion sense and therefore welcome the direct guidance of a very specific uniform regulation while deployed. I often wish I had the same luxury at home, so when I get asked if I’m really going to wear something outside of the house, I can reference the reg before I answer. As for the chow situation, they’ve mostly got that figured out too.
The main DFAC is known as the Independence Dining Facility and it’s the 24 hour joint. Then we have the Manhattan over in Ops Town, and the BPC chow hall, which is in the Beautiful People’s Compound. That truly is a dining experience to be savored and we only allow ourselves the luxury of attending meals there on a semi-weekly basis.
Each day we get an e mail advertising the next day’s events. The movie schedule is listed, as are most on base activities as well as an outlook for any big happenings going on over the next week or two. Additionally, the daily menu is published from Midnight Chow through breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Monday’s are now Mexican Monday, but they used to be Taco Tuesday if memory serves me correctly. Tuesday is something completely unmemorable and Wednesday is Steak and Lobster night unless Obama is being lambasted on Fox News about the budget and then it becomes steak and shrimp night, and you have to use your imagination to convince yourself that somewhere underneath all that gristle and charring is actually a strip of some kind of red meat. There is another night that is dedicated to Italian food, and Sunday’s are Mongolian BBQ night.
It was Wednesday night when I put my fingers to the keyboard to write this missive, steak and lobster night. I had decided on a little afternoon nap so I got left behind when the masses went to chow, perhaps by design because if makes me sad to think of all those poor people lining up for what Rodney Dangerfield might describe as “…low grade dog food, I think this steak still has marks from where the jockey was hitting it.” Honestly, one of our Navs here used to work in Services and he has a buddy who has a friend who knows this guy who works with someone in the chow hall and he said that one of his coworkers saw a guy with a box of meat stamped with words that basically say: “GRADE D: Only suitable for prisoners, and military.” I try not to think of that stuff when I eat.
The lobster left me wanting. Wanting to be home and not trying to convince myself that it’s awful nice of these folks to supply us with all the comforts of home. As for the steak, if you like the flavor of A-1 mixed with lighter fluid then you’d probably pretty happy every time Wednesday rolls around. I get a hamburger and fries, skip the line and feel much better after I leave the DFAC now.
Really, the food situation here is pretty good for the most part and there isn’t much to complain about. When the menu doesn’t appeal to me, there are plenty of other options to choose from. There is a grill where we can get burgers, chicken and grilled cheese. We have a snack line with hot dogs, chicken fingers and other fried goods. Then in the back of the DFAC there is a Panini press where we can get a decent hot sandwich. That Panini press is co-located with the Otis Spunkmeyer cookie display where we have fresh, soft cookies in the peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal and chocolate chocolate chip varieties. There’s also an ice cream bar back there too, and sometimes they have cookies and cream, my personal favorite. I have yet to see the bread pudding served in the dessert line.
I had intended to segue this entry into a discussion about a potential food poisoning epidemic here this week, but it’s looking more and more like a virus has struck the AOR by storm and is taking folks out of the fight left and right. More on that as it progresses. I’m planning on being laid up in my room for a couple days when it gets to me, so I’ll have plenty of time to write about it then. For now, it’s laundry time, which means is also FaceTime time with my three favorite girls.