Monday, July 26, 2004
Three long frame tents sit side by side by side of one another, joined by a couple of hallways to make our chow hall, affectionately known as the ‘Freedom Fighter Cafe’ by its clientele. Each long frame tent is actually a series of five individual frame tents, canvas tents set on a metal A-frame, pieced together head to toe to form one long tent. Inside the left most of the three is the kitchen where several cooks wearing white aprons over their desert camouflage uniforms spend hours preparing three square meals each day for the Soldiers. They feed over 600 Soldiers each meal. A long table with a wood cutting board top runs down the middle of the first third of the tent for cutting vegetables and performing other culinary tasks. A row of shelves line the wall filled with pots and pans and various other large cooking untensils. Adjacent to the shelves holding the tools of the trade, is a gray sheetmetal wallocker in which are housed row after row of spices and herbs. The next third of the kitchen has large gas stoves and ovens on either side of the tent where most of the cooking is done. It can get quite hot inside, especially when all the ovens and stoves are going at once, but the smells are mouth wateringly fabulous. A radio hangs from the frame of the tent near the ovens blaring music from the Armed Forces Network radio station. Two large, deep stainless steel sinks fill the outside wall of the last third of the kitchen tent where the pots and pans and various other cooking utensils are washed by a team of local nationals.
At the front end of the middle of the three long frame tents is the main entrance to the chow hall. Before entering, the Soldiers can wash their hands at one of six hand washing stations set up on the outside of the tent. Once inside, two serving lines are positioned along each wall where two cooks stand behind a glass divider and serve the wonderfully prepared meals cafeteria style. Next in line is a salad bar and a condiments bar where one can choose from a traditional green salad or maybe a macaroni or cucumber salad prepared earlier in the kitchen tent and get any condiments they might need for their meal. There is ketchup, steak sauce, a choice of several salad dressings, and a host of other extras. Lastly, on either side of the tent stand two large stainless steel beverage coolers with glass doors holding cold cans of assorted soft drinks, bottles of water, boxes of juice and milk, and sometimes on lucky days, bottles of Gatorade.
The right most tent houses a series of picnic style tables along each side of the dining tent, with a walkway down the middle to the exit, where Soldiers can sit and enjoy their meal and quiet conversation. In the middle of each table are holders filled with napkins, salt and pepper and bottles of Tobasco hot sauce. Soldiers love Tobasco hot sauce and can usually be found putting it on just about everything from eggs to rice to chicken. At either end of this tent sit two large flat screen televisions that normally show a sporting event, news, or whatever program is currently being aired on one of the six Armed Forces Network television stations.
It isn’t a home cooked meal served by a lovely and talented and downright sexy cook at a dining room table with the kids all talking at once and arguing over who got the longest french fry or the most fish sticks and the dog nosing a leg under the table begging for a piece of steak, but it’s a pretty damned good chow hall in the middle of the desert, feeding hungry Soldiers everyday providing them with the fuel they need to carry on with their missions.