Sunday, July 5, 2009
One of Tom's letters
Most of you have already read this, but for those of you who havn't, Enjoy!
Life out here is still good. I get to chat with Keriann almost every day on Gmail chat, which enhances my quality of life greatly. It’s not a bad age to deploy, when you get to talk to your spouse every day.
Yesterday I ate ice cream. It was good. Most days I’ve been able to resist the temptation. I think that was only my 3rd helping since I arrived – OK, maybe 4th. The DFAC is what we call the Dining FACility. If this was a Navy installation, it would be the galley or chow hall. But in this not so nautical world, it’s the DFAC. When I got here, I quickly realized that the DFAC was going to be my biggest enemy.
The DFAC is a modular structure – like a bunch of trailers all hooked together. It is surrounded by a tall grey concrete wall that makes it hard to really size down. As I approached it, I was expecting it to be kind of a small joint. I entered for the first time into a smallish room without windows, and with the walls completely covered by stainless steel sinks. Papers taped to the wall above the backsplash caulking declared “HANDWASHING IS MANDATORY.” One of these papers was even in a frame, which, out here, lets you know the contents are important. There were also graphics posted to visually instruct us in proper hand washing technique. As I advanced past the garbage can full of paper towels, another set of taped papers caught my eye. These used scare tactics, just in case we had gotten this far without washing our hands. They threatened diarrhea unless we complied with the prescribed course of cleansing.
Having been properly sanitized, I merged again with the flow of people headed deeper into the DFAC. We shuffled through another small room, where we each, in turn, scanned our ID cards and grabbed a tray. I followed the faint boot prints on the white tile floor a few more steps, then looked up.
Instantly overwhelming. All the food you can imagine. An enormous quantity of food. I turned my head to the right and saw a wings bar with buffalo wings, barbecue wings, and fried wings. Next to that was the Mexican bar with all manner of tortilla and bean choices. An aroma of cilantro led my eyes to the vegetarian bar with some great smelling eggplant parmesan. Turning my head straight again I saw the main line with potatoes, barbeque ribs, corn on the cob, baked trout, fried trout, and baked potatoes. A glance to the left found a fast food line with onion rings, burgers, fries, and other deep fried goodness. In the middle of the room I ran my bulging eyes down a huge salad bar. Across the aisle was a hot sandwich line, a cold sandwich line, a fruit bar, and a soup serving area. In the center of the room was a huge wire basket full of single serving cups of every cereal ever invented, as if it were a monument to General Mills himself. And all around the room, I saw hundreds of tables with thousands of sweaty, uniformed bodies in a whir of conversation and mouth stuffing, with ketchup and hot sauce being dripped liberally to their trays.
Finally, next to the 17 coolers filled with soda, juice, and Gatorade, I eyed the desert display. Cheesecake, chocolate cake, every kind of cookie (big ones), smoothies, baked cobblers, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and all the ice cream you can eat. Cookies and Cream, Chocolate, Vanilla, Pralines… Baskin Robbins. Except here, the whipped cream, hot fudge, and nuts are self-serve.
As I stood there for the first time, I was totally lost. Questions in my head overcame my hunger, and prolonged inaction. How do they get all of this out here? Is this why the Higginson kid came back from the Marines so fat? How much (taxpayer) money does it cost to feed each of us each day? Is this a terrorist plot to fatten and decondition the entire U.S. military? My initial excitement died down a little when I reasoned that the food must be terrible. After shipping it halfway around the world and preparing it in the biggest school cafeteria you can imagine, it was going to be bad.
I finally noticed that my standing in awe was holding up the line behind me. Re-engaging my military bearing, I followed the flow to the main line and filled my plate. I wanted to try at least a few of the tempting dishes, but didn’t have room on the tray for a fraction of the offerings. I sat down, still expecting some taste disappointment. Then I realized I had been totally wrong. Cafeteria food can be good. The ribs were tender and tasted like they had been rubbed, marinated, and sauced before they came off the grill in the back yard. The lettuce was green, cool, and crisp. Even the steamed carrots were crisp, not soggy, and were topped with a little butter and just a dash of pepper. And the Baskin Robbins was the real stuff.
The DFAC is definitely the enemy. Three times each day, I fight another battle with it, trying to strengthen the self control of my jaw with each surrendered bite.