Saturday, November 29, 2014

Air Force Chow Pt 2

As Sarge has described in a previous post along with numerous comments from various readers and since we are still in a tryptophan induced lethargy, I felt a need to break from my once a week schedule and add another saga of prandial adventures about Military Chow.  I have eaten in Air Force Dining Facilities, Navy Ward Rooms and Marine and Army Chow Halls.  While not Michelin quality, most were adequate to need, in that I never left hungry.  There were a few times where I was able to experience the dining support provided to other militaries.  Results were varied and somewhat humorous.

So...There I was*.  Deployed to Chitose AB, Hokkaido Japan for an exercise to determine if the JASDF (the Japanese Air Force) could support a deployment of 12 F-15s.  This wasn't a normal deployment where we brought several C-141s loaded with people and equipment.  This was 18 Pilots, a Flight Surgeon, a Maintenance Officer, 12 Crew Chiefs, a Fuels Specialist, Engine Specialist and Avionics Specialist (AKA Sarge).  I was their leader. The rest of the support for the operation came from the Japanese F-15 Wing at Chitose. 

As I've mentioned earlier, this deployment occurred in winter and there was an initial supply problem that impacted operations.  It seems there was a paucity of coal for the coal fired stove that heated the combined billeting/operations building, a WWII era quonset hut.  It was during that problem resolution that I discovered another bigger problem and thankfully a solution.  
Chitose AB.  Quarters circled in bottom center
Source:Google Maps

Now, I consider myself fluent in 32 different languages in that I can order a beer and find directions to a bathroom.  Japanese is one of them, although after a few years on Okinawa, I had progressed beyond beer and bathroom. However, that fluency did not extend to the day to day complexities of operating a small F-15 squadron.  As I'm trying to describe to the supply Officer that we would greatly appreciate a load of coal, I realized his English was limited almost as much as my Japanese.  I'm discussing this with the other folks on the deployment when one of the crew chiefs says "Sir, I speak Japanese."  At that instant, he was no longer a crew chief, but now the JASDF Liason NCO.  Things went a bit smoother from then on.

But what does this have to do with Military Chow Halls, Juvat?  Well, if you would refer back to the personnel listing, Mess Sergeant and other job titles along that line are conspicuously missing.  We're going to eat in the JASDF Mess Hall.  I tend to like Japanese food, so the morning rice and Miso soup was welcome and good.  There was a standard serving line and JASDF personnel were in line with us, so chances were good that what we were getting was their standard fare.  (They didn't give us coal on the first night, so it was unlikely they were going to make any special allowances.)  In any case, I didn't pick up on any actual complaining.  Complaining being different from grumbling or bitching the latter of which are de rigueur for any military operation.

So this goes on for a two or three days, the menu varying for all three meals daily.  I've found something at least edible at every meal and informal consultation with the enlisted folks has given me similar feedback.  The flying operation is going fairly smoothly.  Support from the JASDF has been excellent, and my Liaison NCOIC is performing his duties flawlessly.  We do have one bird that is having consistent problems and as I'm discussing the issue with the Maintenance OIC, a female 1LT from the deep South, I notice that she doesn't look very well.  She seems to be having problems concentrating and looks like she feels kind of weak and puny.  After the meeting, I pull her aside and ask her if she's ok, she says she's not feeling really well.  I tell her to go see the Flight Surgeon which she does.  Later on, I see the Doc at dinner and ask him how the Lt is.  He says "She hasn't eaten since she got here 5 days ago, not a thing."  Unlike the current version of me, she couldn't stand to lose the weight.

I asked him what the problem was and he said, the first morning, the fish head soup freaked her out and she hasn't been able to eat since.  As this deployment was as much diplomacy as operations, I didn't want to offend our hosts by having an officer collapse because she didn't like Japanese Food. Now, the Flight Surgeon was a good friend of mine and a pretty good stick if I do say so myself (taught how to fly the F-15 by your's truly) So, I asked him if he would talk to her and kind of point her to the plain rice, and maybe the chicken whilst passing up the various seafood delicacies being offered.  He said he would and after a couple of conversations, she did. Diplomatic and health crises averted, we went on to have a very successful deployment, and yes, we could operate out of a JASDF base should the need arise.

Later in my career, I had the opportunity to deploy to Thailand for a Cobra Gold Exercise. While most of this exercise was a field exercise with the Thai Army, we were deployed to the 3MEF HQ as a JTF augmentation cell.  Since the 3MEF commander wore 3 and there were multiple US and Thai GO/FO involved, the Exercise HQ was in Chon Buri, a large city southeast of Bangkok.  My team was billeted in a small local hotel which we pretty much filled.

The Thai are a very hospitable people and went out of their way to make us feel at home. They even put on a cultural show that was "revealing".  Given that TailHook and it's aftermath had just gone down, the JTF Commander felt compelled to apologize to anybody on the staff who was offended.  GMAB!  But, as this is a food related post, I am digressing.

The Hotel Manager had gone out of his way to make us feel at home and as such, the Hotel Restaurant had changed their menu to offer us American Food, breakfast, lunch and dinner.  So breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, vienna sausage and toast.  Lunch was Hot Dogs, and Dinner was Spaghetti.

Every Day.

The exercise was a month long.

Which would have been survivable except...

The. Food. Was. Horrible.

The vienna sausage was the same meat as the hot dogs and had nothing in common with the taste of actual hot dogs.  The eggs were under cooked and runny, and I'm pretty sure the tomato sauce for the spaghetti was ketchup.  

This went on for about a week, and the complaining is becoming louder.  One night, the manager comes up to me and asks how everything is going, and was there anything he could do for me to make my stay more enjoyable.

I told him that one of the exercise objectives was to gain an appreciation for Thai Culture and, as such, I wondered if he could provide some sample Thai dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner for us to try.  A very large smile came across his face, as he said "Of course."

The next morning, breakfast was wonderful as was lunch and dinner.  That night, the manager asked me  how the meals were.  I told him and he asked if we wanted to go back to the American Menu.  I said "No Thank You!"

Complaints dropped to nearly zero and the rest of the exercise went pretty smoothly.

*Skip calls them Sea Stories, I call them War Stories, but the only difference between them and a fairy tale is a fairy tale starts with "Once upon a time", the other starts with "So,...There I was".


  1. Well told and a very worthy Part 2. Sometimes sequels don't live up to their potential, that was NOT a problem here.

    (Also nice of you to fill in for a vacationing, read lazy, Sarge!)

  2. Thanks and No Sweat. I was being truthful when I mentioned a tryptophan induced lethargy. I told myself if I wrote a post, I could take a nap. I did and I did.

  3. The only "foreign chow" I ever had the opportunity to savor was in the Sergeants Mess at RAF Uxbridge and it was of VERY high quality (by way of short explanation: Uxbridge was a REAL RAF base in the London borough of Hillingdon, not a USAF base with "RAF" tacked on the name). My friends and I took lunch there at least once a week, most oftentimes more, and nearly always at the bar. That said, I too was billeted in a Thai hotel in Chaing Mai once upon a time and the food was most excellent.

    1. Yeah, I did get treated real well on a TDY to the UK. Depending on how long Sarge wants to run Chant Du Depart's version of Food Network, I may have to put pen to that.

  4. Another super post juvat! I was always surprised at the number of shipmates who were afraid to try the local fare. In my experience a little practice with the phrase book and a polite request to "please feed me" almost always led to a very satisfactory dining experience.

    As to chow at non-U.S. military facilities, it could be a bit of an adventure. Cold salami and scrambled eggs at Sig comes to mind. A fond memory is hitting the breakfast buffet at NATO Stavanger. I got stuck there in about 1980 when the Sea King went tango-uniform on a medevac. The beach det office gave me a handful of kroner and pointed me toward the mess. I didn't habla much Norwegian at the time so I just held out my handful of shiny coins to the cashier, who took a few, paused, then took several more and pointed me toward the line. The food was just tremendously good (bacon and eggs and about 40 varieties of fresh/smoked/raw fish) and we met some RNoN helo bubbas (they flew the right hand drive version of the Sea King) who adopted us for a few days. I'm still not sure whether that breakfast cost $0.35 or $350, but it sure hit the spot. There are a lot of great places to RON but during the cold war Norway was right up there at the top of the list.

    1. Never made it to Norway, but have always wanted to. It sounds like you were almost fluent in Norwegian at the time though. You were able to communicate your desire for victuals* effectively.

      *I believe victuals is a MAC term for food.

  5. We used to rotate in & out of Bodo, Norway on NATO exercises, so I'll second the breakfast bit (all except the lutefish...GAAAK!!!)

    Funny true story. On my second tour at DaNang as a FAC one of my roomies was a Capt who had previously been a TACP ground FAC with the Korean White Horse Div. down in II Corps. He was in hog heaven quartered and flying out of DaNang. "You haven't lived until you've smelled kimchi that has been fermenting in 120 degree heat all day!" LOL!

    1. Interesting how powerfully smells can be wrapped up in memory.

  6. Wow, reading about the Air Force complaining about the chow at the galley made my day. OTOH, we used a minehunting sonar to find bottomed and lost fishtraps and used serious fishhooks to raise them to the surface for some very fine fish fries where there was no food but rice and brussel sprouts. Sans fish, I'd have starved to death on that cruise.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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