Under the Radar

7 Chow Line Nightmares That Will Make You Hug Your Woobie

BY BLAKE STILWELL - WEARETHEMIGHTY.COM

Military food is notorious for earning the right to be nicknamed a “mess.”

Sometimes it’s because the recipe is fundamentally flawed, other times it’s because the supplies available meant a substitution (read: mistake) was made.

Or maybe the people working in the kitchen decide to put spaghetti on top of your mashed potatoes, despite all the room on the rest of the plate (looking at you, Fort Meade).

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Carbs! (Photo from the Just DFACs Maam Blog)

Think of this list as more of a hat tip to the kitchen staffers who go above and beyond to make sure the food we all eat is a force multiplier – and not a tool of the Dark Side of the force. Here are a few recipes for disaster collected by the WATM staff.

1. Powdered Eggs – Tent City, Saudi Arabia

Military kitchen staffs the world over will vehemently deny ever using powdered eggs, but one look at the yellow-gray-green muck that might be looking back at you will make you think twice about believing them. Sure, a hot meal probably beats a field ration but in this case, not by much.

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What, no ham?

The eggs pair well with pieces of lettuce. This is great because if anyone arrived to the chow line later than 20 minutes after it opened for midnight meal, lettuce was their only side dish option.

2. Basically everything served at MIDRATS – USS Kitty Hawk

Burnt, crispy rice is a delicacy in some places – like Iran – but it shouldn’t be the norm on a Navy ship during midnight rations, even if the ship is in the Strait of Hormuz.

Yet, there it is. Although sometimes, the burnt rice would be rolled into meatballs and go by the name “hedgehogs.”

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Syrup is the new ketchup.

If the U.S. Navy’s tadig (google it) isn’t your thing, MIDRATS also offers boiled hot dogs, cardboard burger patties, and teflon bread.

That’s OK, because it all tastes the same with enough hot sauce.

3. KBR Steak and Seafood Night – Victory Base Complex, Iraq

The chief chow hall supplier for Operation Iraqi Freedom tried to build a little morale with luxury food items once a week. This ended up being the day you could smell exactly what the chow hall was cooking, long before you got anywhere near the place.

Kinda like the dumpster behind a Red Lobster.

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Boiling steaks ensured no one got sick from undercooked meat while also guaranteeing no one enjoyed them.

The fried shrimp had the consistency of poker chips and the King Crab legs were… there.

The Subway probably did good business on these days.

4. Fish. Forever. – FOB Fenty, Afghanistan

After a U.S. friendly fire incident killed 24 Pakistanis, American troops in Afghanistan were cut off from supplies coming across the Hindu Kush.

For members of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade stationed at FOB Fenty near Jalalabad, this meant a deep dive into the frozen food section.

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This pic from DFAC Cambridge shows the UK didn’t fare much better. (Photo by TripAdvisor user ShootermcGavin1)

Specifically, the frozen fish section.

For months until Pakistan received an official apology, FOB Fenty ate frozen fish for three meals a day until the convoys started rolling in again.

5. Brown Patties – Camp Geiger

The “breaded brown patty” was made of an unknown meat and trying to determine which animal – or animals – it came from might only raise more questions than it answered. The only hint that animals were involved in the brown patty process was the layer of fat congealing at the bottom of the tray.

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In the Army, at least you can get PID on that corn. (photo by Tumblr user JamesPhan)

The taste was primarily salt, and the texture resembled that of a warm kitchen sponge. One bite was enough to make any Marine content with a roll and a glass of milk.

6. Pasta Carbonara – Camp Victory, Iraq

Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a delicious dish with ground egg, pecorino Romano cheese, pancetta bacon, and black pepper. But that’s not what happened in Iraq.

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It could always be worse.

Now, no one truly believes the chow hall is going to carry Romano cheese or pancetta. But the recipe found in one of the chow lines on Camp Victory included a ketchup-based red sauce, egg slices, bologna cubes, and frozen peas.

7. Everything at Camp Eggers, Afghanistan

The food at Eggers was so notoriously bad, it warranted a mention in the New York Times.

“Given the selection, most meals ultimately degrade into some combination of cereal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and saltine crackers,” said the author, Navy Lt. Andrew Sand, who would be driven to risk his life for a plate of French cheese.

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Everything looks more appetizing next to a watermelon. Fact.

One infantryman gained notoriety while cooking for his unit at Camp Bala Hissar near Kabul. Army Sgt. Troy Heckenlaible said the 100 or so soldiers he cooked for preferred his cooking to the food at Eggers. His secret? Unit Group Rations.

blake stilwell  Blake Stilwell is a traveler, writer, and adventurer with degrees in design, television & film, and international relations. He is a veteran US Air Force Combat Photojournalist who has worked for ABC News, NBC, and HBO. Blake is based in Hollywood, but often found elsewhere.


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