Green eggs and a founding fondness for coffee come to mind when I think of it.
It was the best meal, it was the worst meal, it was the only meal of the day. And, sometimes, we had two of them.
I’m not talking about McDonald’s or Burger King or Red Lobster. I’m talking about Army chow.
Often disrespected, never duplicated, Army chow is in a league of its own. You can’t get it anywhere else, including downtown Killeen (unless the Army brings it there).
My first taste of Army chow was on Sept. 15, 1993, in a dining facility (better known as D-facs or mess halls) at Fort Knox, Ky. I had arrived that evening to start basic training, and after a couple of in-processing steps, the instructors herded the other recruits and me to get a bite to eat.
I remember it was kind of late, around 10 p.m. or so, but I was hungry. Before we ate, an officer came and spoke to us. He said a few other things, but all I remember him talking about was Army chow. He said it was good food, and if you’re overweight, you’ll be losing some pounds. Then he said the opposite will also be true: if you’re underweight, you’ll be gaining some pounds.
After his short speech, we were allowed to eat. I don’t totally remember what it was, but it wasn’t half bad. I think it was chicken Parmesan or something like that.
For the next 16 weeks, I continued to eat that Army chow as I trained to be a soldier and an M-1 tanker. The mess hall we ate at regularly was OK. At any given meal, we usually had a choice of two meats, veggies, other sides and bread. There was a salad bar, too. Nothing fancy, but oftentimes, going to chow was the most relaxing part of the day.
We weren’t allowed to buy the newspaper, but there was a USA Today stand outside the main door of the mess hall. I’d read the headlines as we lined up to go eat. I learned River Phoenix died on Halloween as we filed into the mess hall one day.
Like others, that mess hall went all out on Thanksgiving: fall-like decorations, ice sculptures, even a live donkey; plus plenty of turkey and the fixings.
After basic, I came to Fort Hood, and the D-facs here weren’t bad, either. Breakfast was especially good. I could get made-to-order omelets, French toast, pancakes and other good stuff. At lunch and dinner, I always liked the three-bean salad.
Of course, the real taste of Army chow comes in the field. Back in my day, my first sergeant was in charge of bringing in hot meals twice a day; once in the morning and once at night. Lunch was a meal ready to eat.
Our company supply guys, who would dish out the food, used mermite cans to keep the food warm. But somehow the cans would cause scrambled eggs to turn greenish in color. They still tasted OK, but green eggs and ham was a reality for us. Not that I’m complaining — hot chow is always better than an MRE.
I also developed a taste for coffee while in the field. I didn’t drink the stuff prior to joining the Army, but in field, we didn’t have access to soft drinks, Gatorade or things like that. Green canisters full of coffee, however, would be dropped off from time to time. It was a luxury, but it was available.
Of course, the best part about Army chow was the price — I didn’t have to pay a dime for it. And if a meal didn’t taste that great, there was always plenty of salt available to pour on it.
Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the city editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468.