Once again, we are lucky to be on a larger base. The MWR options are such that one shouldn’t be bored here if one has free time after work. I don’t have the luxury of enjoying after-work free time, but if I had, I could take classes from University of Maryland or Central Texas Community College. Many basic courses are offered nearly monthly. If classes aren’t your thing, the MWR building has pool tables, computers for gaming, darts, air hockey, ping pong, card game tables, a small movie theater, a library and hundreds if not thousands of movies to borrow. There’s always the gym too. Our gym is pretty big by gyms-in-a-war-zone standards. There are approximately 10 treadmills, 10 elliptical machines, 10 bicycles, tons of free weights, cables and machine weights. They even have medicine balls for abs and a stretching area complete with mats. One could re-deploy from here (given the time and desire) a lean mean fighting machine. Too bad many Soldiers return to the states fat and out of shape. Probably all the fried foods and ice cream from the DFAC. That reminds me – the DFAC.
Dining Facility (DFAC)
Though many people complain of lame, bland food, the DFAC does an amazing job of providing 4 meals a day to thousands of service members with surprising variety – albeit monotony. Why four meals you ask? This base runs 24 hour Ops – so the midnight shift needs to have their 3 meals a day too! Breakfast is my favorite meal, even though it is the one at which I eat the fewest and most regular items: reconstituted powdered scrambled eggs with salsa, slow cook whole oatmeal, melon and black tea. Sometimes I spice it up with a box of Special K or Total Raisin Bran or a French toast stick, but usually I don’t. But dang, there are a lot of choices.
At breakfast one can choose eggs to order (including egg whites). This is the first station one comes to after scanning his ID card and picking up a tray. The line is usually long and I always bypass it, even if there’s no one waiting (which is rare). Afterward comes the breakfast staples: bacon, rehydrated link sausage, chicken breast (always with some foul seasoning – notice I didn’t write fowl seasoning. I really did mean foul.), hard boiled eggs, and a deep fried potato thing like the kind you get at Burger King. What are they called? I can’t remember. Next section has biscuits, two kinds of gravy, plain & cheese grits, my slow cooked oatmeal, sweetened oatmeal, two kinds of scrambled eggs and salsa. Because this is the evening meal for those on night shift there are cold cuts, cheeses, breads, and soup. All this stuff is located in the main area.
There are four more food stations in the dining rooms. The first is a yogurt cooler. One must be careful with the yogurt cups. We’ve had a few different brands since I’ve been here. I’ve quit eating it because the last couple of times I got yogurt I think it was spoiled. The aluminum foil top looked like it was about to burst open – which it literally did as I opened a cup the first time. Thankfully I’d experienced such food bombs in the past and knew to use a napkin to shield myself. The yogurt tasted sour, which meant the cultures had started to ferment. Hey! Maybe I should get a bunch of that stuff, put it in a dark cold corner of my room under the bed until it gets really fermented and see if it turns to alcohol!!!! We’re not allowed booze in a war zone. General Order #1 forbids the consumption or possession of alcohol. I don’t think we’re allowed to make it either. Dang, maybe I could let the yogurt ferment, get some needles and syringes from the combat hospital and offer Botox treatments in my spare time. Make some money, have fun, and do my part to help “beautify” Afghanistan one wrinkled forehead at a time. Who am I kidding? I have no spare time, it was just a thought.
So, back to the food areas. Another hot food bar is in the main dining rooms. It contains wet, flavorless quiche (I’ve tried it a few times and have never been impressed), berry or chocolate chip pancakes, French toast sticks, mini waffles and strawberry and chocolate syrups (maple syrup is available at the condiment bar). We now progress to the cold food bar where at least 5 kinds of cut fruit are available including honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit and strawberries. Whip crème and brown sugar is there along with raisins and peanuts. I have no idea why peanuts are there. For some reason cold hard boiled eggs are here as well. Finally there is the cereal area where donuts, breakfast bars, more fruit (the portable kind like apples, oranges, and plums) and individual boxes of cereal. Cocoa Puffs, Raisin Bran, Special K, Lucky Charms, Granola, et. al. are staples. I’m sure I’m missing some stuff, but that’s all that comes to mind right now.
With such choices, it’s a wonder your sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, aunts, uncles, and yes even grandparents don’t return home slobbering hogs. As with anything, moderation and restraint should be the key words by which we live our lives, especially in the DFAC. And just think, I haven’t even touched upon lunch or dinner or the holiday meals. Sweet Mother of God, one could die of a food overdose at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. It could be a true glutton fest of gargantuan proportions if the tenants of moderation and restraint are ignored. No one has yet died of a food coma as far as I know, but by the looks and size of some of my fellow service members, I think some might be giving it a shot.
While we’re on the subject of the DFAC, I might as well enlighten you on who staffs the place, and other positions on base for that matter. It kind of puzzles me actually. Yes, there are American workers at the DFAC but they are not the majority. I think the place is staffed 25% by Americans, 25% by Afghanis and 50% by TCNs. Third Country Nationals, or TCNs make up the vast majority of workers on base. In the DFAC the Afghani are relegated to housekeeping chores. They take out the trash, wipe off the tables, sweep the floors, etc. A few of them usually walk around the DFAC, mostly checking out the females (western women don’t wear burkhas remember – more on that later) instead of wiping tables or cleaning up whatever some lazy slob has spilled on the floor. They all wear hair nets and those with facial hair wear nets over their beards too. One guy stands out – only because he has east/west eyes. Seriously, it’s not like he has one walleye, or lazy eye. The left eye looks left and the right eye looks right. It’s freaky, you never know what he’s looking at and I imagine he can see two people at the same time if he really tries. I’ve not got a nickname for him yet, so if you have any ideas please shoot them my way. But I digress, back to the workers.
KBR is the main employer of workers on base. The DFAC is staffed by KBR as is the maintenance yard, the motor maintenance shop, the supply & logistics yard, etc. About 90% of the civilian employers are KBR. The remainder are US contactors who work law enforcement, computer installation, software, intelligence systems and the like. (thankfully, we don’t outsource the most vital aspects of the war). What I don’t understand is the sheer number of TCN’s who work for KBR. It must be economical – maybe KBR doesn’t have to spend as much money in salary and benefits for TCN’s as they’d be forced to for US citizens. Anyway, there are more base workers from Macedonia, Serbia, Philippines, India, etc than there are from Afghanistan.
I understand the language requirement – and believe me, it must be a requirement – but if US policy is to make Afghanistan a self sufficient, safe, secure place, why are we not putting more money in their economy by employing the people themselves? Makes sense to me. One problem does arise that can’t be ignored – local workers can and are frequently targeted by the Taliban. Sometimes they are killed for working as “collaborators.” Other times they are coerced into cooperating with the Taliban by collecting and providing information about us and our security procedures to those soul less, brainwashed, uneducated devils or worse, they’ll conduct suicide bomb attacks against us. So, overall, maybe using TCN’s is best, if it keeps us safer.