Belgium


Army Lt. Col. Tandy Brown, center, commander of the 7th Special Forces Group, serves a soldier and his daughters during a Thanksgiving Day meal on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 24, 2014.

 

Many families celebrate Thanksgiving with their extended families. Airports and highways are so crowded that a video of Thanksgiving traffic on a Los Angeles freeway makes an iconic picture of the trek to go home. The song Over the River and Through the Woods vies for top Thanksgiving honors with We Gather Together.

Where do you go, though, when you’ve only been “home” for a few months, or for a couple of years at most? Whose food reminds you of Thanksgiving when Grandma is across an ocean? Where do you make memories if all your dishes are still in transit, wrapped in packing paper, and (the gods willing) unbroken?

If your family is a military family, you may go to the dining facility (DFAC), formerly known as the chow hall, mess hall, or mess deck. What you call where you eat depends on the service to which you (or more likely, your parent) belong.

 

ARABIAN SEA (Nov. 22, 2012) Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Job David Santiago, from Manila, Philippines, frosts a cake aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) on Thanksgiving. Jason Dunham is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Deven B. King/Released)

 

Usually, dining facilities are reserved for service members on active duty. Their primary purpose is to feed the Army that, in the words of Napoleon Bonaparte (or Frederick the Great, depending on your source), marches on its stomach. On Thanksgiving (and sometimes on Christmas), the dining facility is open to family members. This is a treat that many military Brats look forward to when they are children, and reminisce about when they are grown. My sister and I recently rhapsodized about the shrimp cocktails we remember setting on our trays as we moved through the dining facility line.

In Facebook groups for Brats, the talk in this week leading up to Thanksgiving has been about eating at the dining facility. Among the comments were those about tables full of fruit and candy, how the cooks decorated the dining facility even up to ice sculptures, and food that included roast turkey or ham, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, in addition to fancy food such as that delicious shrimp cocktail, crab legs, and prime rib. My own favorite memory (in addition to the shrimp) was going to the milk dispenser and lifting the heavy weighted handle so that the milk shot into my glass with enough force to produce bubbles. I must say that, as a basic trainee pulling KP in the mess hall, I wasn’t quite as thrilled to heft the five gallon cartons of milk into the dispenser cabinet — those suckers weigh over 40 pounds.

 

Army Spc. Matt Squairs shears off a corner from a block of ice he is sculpting into a pumpkin on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 21, 2014. Squairs, a culinary specialist assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group Airborne’s Group Support Battalion, and other cooks spent more than two weeks preparing a Thanksgiving meal held in the unit’s dining facility.

 

We Brats doted on being allowed into the dining facilities for holidays, but I don’t know that we fully appreciated the work that went into feeding people their daily three square meals, seven days a week, plus holidays — way more people (and food) on the holidays. As someone who has seen both sides of the serving line, I’d like to give all the cooks a rousing cheer, despite the cadence songs we sang about the food. After a day of KP, I felt as if I’d been pulled backwards through a keyhole and my feet …, oh my poor feet how they ached.  I can’t imagine the endurance it takes to be a cook.

 

Army Spc. Trinh Tran, a cook with the Operation Iraqi Freedom Dining Facility at Fort Hood, Texas, covers prepared salads and dressings for the evening meal service, Nov. 21, 2013. Trinh is on a team to assist in preparation of the upcoming Thanksgiving Day dinner. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kim Browne

 

Hooray for the dining facilities and all the cooks in all the services.

I hope they have a restful day-after-Thanksgiving.

 

All photos are released from the DoD photo archive.

Yesterday evening was a sad time. It’s difficult to feel particularly useful while sitting in an unremarkable place, and with no talent that is productive during a tragedy. It’s hard to even express a public feeling of sorrow when whether you do or not has little immediate effect.

Still, not expressing sorrow feels callous, and Paris does have meaning for me.  I lived in Europe, off and on, for over twenty years. My first memories are of England (which isn’t Paris, but is close enough for a Chunnel day trip from Brussels), and my husband’s final assignment with the U.S. Army was at Daumerie Kaserne by Chièvres, Belgium (still not Paris, but again, close enough for day trips with the kids).  A friend lives in Paris. Although I’ve never lived in Paris, I’ve strolled there, avoided rivers of traffic, ridden le Métro, sipped hot chocolate (I’m not a coffee drinker), done the tourist routine, and eaten prix fixe meals. The attack happened someplace that was, for me, working on becoming an everyday place.

One of my favorite pictures isn’t of an instantly recognizable landmark. The one I like is a sign for a picnic area.  It still makes me laugh.

Roadside sign in France designating a picnic area.

Roadside sign in France designating a picnic area.

Despite the feeling of immediacy concerning the shootings, explosions, and dread execution of concert-goers, I’m also saddened by the attack in Beirut. By the downing of the Russian plane. By the refugees fleeing these bastards who’ll kill anyone, anywhere, and use anyone to do it. I’m sickened by the deaths of innocent people who are near the combatants of our self-appointed enemy who choose to hide in hospitals, and our myopia in attacking such a place. It’s all so desperately tragic and all I can do is say I’m heartsick.

The only cold encouragement is remembering that London wasn’t beaten by the Irish Republican Army bombings in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. London was changed — and I can’t see an unattended bag without thinking about it — but it’s still there. Paris will still be there, too.

I hope the terror abates soon.

Coalport Countryware One set of my many teapots shown in an inventory photo taken before moving from Germany to Belgium. 1st generation digital photo

Coalport Countryware
One set of my many teapots shown in an inventory photo taken before moving from Germany to Belgium.
1st generation digital photo

The other day while I was catching up on email digests, a conversation on a writing list caught my eye. Someone asked about “tea” and I gave a quick response because I have a passing familiarity with it, although more as a drink than as a meal. My Air Force dad was assigned to a military unit in England when I was little and, while we lived there, the daughter of my mom’s cleaning lady was my babysitter. Occasionally I was sent over to their house and would play with my babysitter’s younger brothers. Despite this vague familiarity with English family life, and later exposure through all the English mystery novels I’ve read, my language training would prove to be inadequate.

1951  Mom pouring me milk while we're having our tea.

1951 Mom pouring me milk while we’re having our tea.

Fast-forward a long ways from my childhood but not quite up to the present.

Before my husband retired from federal service, we lived in Belgium where my husband worked closely with others assigned to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, NATO’s military headquarters, otherwise known as SHAPE. SHAPE, like NATO, is multi-national so the possibility of having friends who weren’t American was high. I expected communication difficulties with the non-English-speaking people — I certainly didn’t speak all the languages of NATO, and I didn’t think everyone else would speak English — but I didn’t expect any problems communicating with the British.

 

Our daughters, sitting on the haynets they'd stuffed, at the SHAPE riding club when it was at Bauffe, Belgium. 1st generation digital photo

Our daughters, sitting on the haynets they’d stuffed, at the SHAPE riding club when it was at Bauffe, Belgium.
1st generation digital photo

Our daughters were members of the SHAPE riding club, so I was out at the stables a lot. I helped out, too, doing little chores not requiring expert horsey-knowledge. I could fill hay nets, put saddles away, pick hooves if no one else were available, and even stay on top of a horse although I’m not an expert rider. One day, one of the English women asked if I would be around that afternoon. As I petted her black Labrador, I said I would be. She then asked me if I would give her mare, Anna, her tea.

I was perplexed. I knew that some of the horses had special feed, but I didn’t know that Anna also had a special drink. As far as I had seen, all the horses drank only water. I looked at the woman and said, fine, I could do that, but that I didn’t know where this tea was kept or how to make it. She looked at me as if I had suddenly gone simple. Maybe petting dogs was the limit of my talents?

“Her tea.” she said, emphasizing the word “tea.” “At about five o’clock?”

It took a minute, in which I’m sure I fell in her estimation of whether or not I ought to be let out on my own, but then, with her emphasis on five o’clock, roughly the time when the horses were given their evening meal, it clicked. The woman wanted me to give the mare her supper.

While we Americans think of “tea” (as a meal) as something frilly and fancy — such as, afternoon tea — apparently, in general usage in England, it is meant as “supper.” For horses, that would be a cup or so of oats and a nice net of hay, a task well within my capabilities.

I’m sure that once the linguistic light dawned on me, I stammered a bit, then said, great, I’d give Anna her “tea.” The woman gave me a look as if she were reconsidering, then turned, and calling her dog, went on her way.

In my life overseas, I had yet another language lesson, but, more importantly, Anna had her tea.

Me, in 1999, performing one of the riding stable tasks for which I am qualified -- poop scooping. 1st generation digital photo

Me, in 1999, performing one of the riding stable tasks for which I am qualified — poop scooping.
1st generation digital photo