|800th Aero Squadron - HQ and B Flight Chow Line Camp Coëtquidan, France|
Buck recalled in passing a number of unaccompanied (read stationed overseas all by one's lonesome) meals in Air Force facilities during major holidays. While the only time I can recall dining in a military facility on a holiday was back in 2008. Onboard USS DWIGHT D EISENHOWER (CVN-69) while she was in port over Christmas*. (No, honey, that's not a "fairy" on the fantail of that ship, it's a wasp. As in USS WASP. I know it looks like a lit up "fairy"... I love it when the haze grays are dressed for the holidays.)
At any rate, the discussion of food in the Air Force brought back a lot of memories. As it's the holiday season, I'll share some of those memories with you. (It's what I do, I share. Just stay away from my beer. A man has to draw the line somewhere.)
My earliest memory of the Air Force dining experience was at basic training. Well, not the first couple of meals, those were very much "WHY-ARE-YOU-STILL-EATING-AIRMAN? MOVE MOVE MOVE!!!! THIS ISN'T A DAMN RESTAURANT!!" (Back in those days the instructors were allowed to yell and scream and even use profanity, were they so inclined.)
Eventually though we had the chance to sit down and have a leisurely meal. (Well, 15 minutes to eat felt leisurely at the time.) Steak and lobster tails.
Steak and lobster tails.
I was ready to re-enlist for 30 years right then and there.
"WHAT-THE-HELL-ARE-YOU-SMILING-ABOUT-AIRMAN? THIS AIN'T DISNEYLAND YOU IGNORANT CHOWDERHEAD!!! NOW MOVE YOUR..."
"What? Seriously? You want to re-enlist now? For thirty? MEDIC!!!"
After the docs certified me as "not insane" I was allowed to return to my flight.
So the food in basic training was not bad. Not bad at all. Of course, folks in different squadrons may have had different experiences. My outfit had good cooks.
Lowry AFB was also "not bad" in the culinary department. That's where I went for what we called tech school. The "tech" being short for "technical" - no, I don't make these things up.
My first operational outfit in the Air Force was Kadena AB, Japan (technically speaking Okinawa, which belongs to Japan but isn't, historically, part of Japan).
The food at the chow hall nearest to my barracks was alright. The food was usually pretty good. But I'm not the best judge of that because for a long time I worked what we called mid shift. Midnight to 0700. The best shift to work if you are a night owl (which I am). There are no big shots around and no arse kissers. (As there are no big shots, there would be, almost by definition, no butt kissers around. No need for 'em.)
The one drawback to working mids is that one day, back in the mists of time, someone, somewhere decreed that midnight chow would be the same as breakfast. Eggs, cereal, pancakes and the like. So for a long time the only meal I ate was breakfast. Before going to work and after going to work. On rare occasions I would hit afternoon chow. Until one day all they had was liver and onions. Or fish. Yes, little Sarge went hungry for a couple of hours that day. (The Missus Herself says that I could stand to miss a meal now and then. I won't disagree.)
I well remember one of our local national cooks in the morning. He was a wizard at omelets but we all believed he only knew two words in English. Neither particularly well-pronounced. (Not a criticism mind you, my Japanese is execrable.) Every morning in the chow line for eggs we would hear...
"Scram?" (Would you like scrambled eggs?)
"Om-ret?" (Perhaps an omelet would be more to your liking?)
Both spoken in a very gruff, guttural voice. Think Toshiro Mifune in Red Sun.
Who you ask?
He played the lead Japanese character in the mini-series Shogun, was in about 170 films, mostly in Japan. He was one of my favorite actors. Sadly Mifune-san passed away in 1997.
Anyhoo. That's what the guy who cooked me breakfast for 2 and a half years sounded like.
Now while I was on Okinawa I got married to The Missus Herself. (Before you get confused with the whole Okinawa-Korea thing, let me explain. I was stationed at Kadena when I met the future Mrs Sarge, she lived in Korea. One of the main raisons d'être for the existence of Kadena AB was to support operations (if needed) on the Korean peninsula. As it was envisioned that Korea is where we would fight, we did a lot of temporary duty in Korea. I also used up many days of leave in Korea as well. I spent a long time on Okinawa trying to get permanently stationed in Korea. But that's a story for another day. POCIR**.)
Once a fellow gets married, he doesn't eat in the chow hall any more. One thing I remember about the chow hall nearest to my shop was that they always had roast beef. Always. Fortunately, they did a pretty good job of cooking it. But visiting the chow hall was rare after I tied the knot with The Missus Herself. At least not unless it was lunch time or one of the other meals one might partake of while at work.
But there is one place I remember in the Air Force that had the worst food on the planet. (And I've eaten in some real dives!) Medina Annex at Lackland AFB in San Antonio. I once had the extreme displeasure of being stuck there for a few weeks back in the day. The food was bloody horrendous. The only thing they did not screw up at Medina was the salad. (Though sometimes the only salad dressing available was what they called "Italian" - looked, and tasted, like light machine oil.)
I do believe I lost 20 pounds during that particular evolution.
That was a time when I spent 3 months on temporary duty down at Lackland in the late '80s. When I returned home from that little stint the kids wanted to know...
"Has Daddy been in prison? Why is he so skinny?"
Let's just say this, if the food is so bad that I won't eat it, it's pretty bad. Some day I might tell that story. POCIR.
But in 24 years, that's the only place in the Air Force I ever ate where the cooks were probably guilty of crimes against humanity. Perhaps they didn't like being there either.
Oh, one last thing. While assigned to NATO AB Geilenkirchen I had the opportunity to go to midnight chow once. And only once. I was stunned, no eggs, no bacon, no pancakes.
They had Beef Wellington, and it was superb.
Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoyed my assignment to Germany?
*FWIW, that meal was outstanding. The Nuke assured me that they didn't eat like that everyday. In fact, I believe she said "Not even close..."
**POCIR = Providing Of Course I Remember