By: Kristin Hunt
Our armed forces endure a lot to keep us safe. Constant threats, scorching temperatures, and some truly gnarly food. (Consider yourself lucky if you've never encountered an MRE, or "Meals, Ready-to-Eat".) Since we spend hours fantasizing about our first meal home when we just go on vacation for a week, we asked former and current troops about the food they had to eat the second they returned from a tour -- or, in two instances, the second they got out of boot camp. Whether they ended up at the Golden Arches or their Mom's kitchen, they were all very, very happy not to eat another meatloaf-flavored brick. These are their stories.
Steak and sushi beats goat
Phil Cordeiro, Marines
"I went to the Western portion of Iraq, Al Waleed in Al Anbar. It's a river town between Iraq and Syria. The main shocker is just the lack of municipal infrastructure. There's no running water, roads aren't great. Sanitation is really nonexistent. Having been born and raised in the US, you don't appreciate what that's like, until you go weeks without a shower. That's really the main thing you miss.
"I was mainly eating MREs. They're really not that bad. They have all kinds of different stuff, like tuna and spaghetti. The only problem is you end up eating the same thing every seven days for eight months. There's nothing fresh, like fruits and vegetables. Sometimes we would eat with our counterparts. Every couple months, they'd slaughter a goat. They would bleed out the goat in a traditional manner, and you'd have nuts and rice as sides. That was good in that it was fresh.
"When I got home, I wanted surf 'n turf, sushi and steak. So the first thing I did was I took a shower. Like a half an hour shower. My roommate and I had a kegerator, and I probably had like three beers in the shower. Then I went with my roommates and a few other friends to a sushi place called [Miso] Harney Sushi. We pretty much got one of everything on the menu as far as sushi goes, but it was a steak dinner combination. So sashimi paired with different kinds of beef. We also had several Japanese beers, like Sapporo and Kirin Ichiban. And two bottles of Ozeki Nigori unfiltered sake. Then there was mochi ice cream for dessert. It was great. The food was great, and the place has a cool atmosphere since it's near the pier area of Oceanside. And then after that, we went to this Southern California chain Pizza Port, for more beer. We probably called it a night at 1 a.m.."
Thank you, 24-hour drive-thru
Angel Beltre, Marines
"For my third tour, I spent seven months in Sangin, Afghanistan. I was basically only eating MREs, with the occasional mailed care package with some snacks from home.
"I knew I wanted pizza. I had been craving pizza. I'm a pizza fanatic. (And of course I also wanted a good home-cooked meal from my wife.) But by the time I got back home and met up with my family, it was really late, something like 2 a.m. So there weren't really many options. There was a McDonald's across from my house and since I just wanted food, I went straight there. I ate a #1 Big Mac meal. I took it back home and it was delicious."
Nothing smells like good BBQ
Josh Gamma, National Guard
"A food memory that stands out is when I was in basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. There was this parade field, and during training we'd march out there almost every day. This was the summer in South Carolina, so it was 100 degrees all the time. It was rough. But there was a BBQ place just on the other side of the field that you could smell when you were marching around. So we were marching, sweating, nearly passing out, but also smelling this beautiful BBQ place. I swore to myself I would go there as soon as I got out.
"So when my parents came for my basic training graduation and asked what I wanted to do, I said, 'That place. We gotta go there.' It was just amazing, delicious South Carolina BBQ. I believe some pulled pork was involved -- it might've been a pulled pork sandwich. Very satisfying. After being in Austin for all these years, I wonder what I would think now. Because in Texas, it's more than just smoked meat. There're places in Texas where they don't even have BBQ sauce. It's sacrilege. But in that moment, when I was eating it, it was exactly what I wanted."
Eating an entire tray of chicken
April Ripley, Marines
"I was in Iraq for 11 months, and it was just miserable. It's really hot, and it's just a big adjustment going from living stateside to living there for almost a year. I basically lived off MREs and those little boxes of cereal that kids eat.
"I was writing my Mom for months telling her what I wanted as soon as I got off the bus. It's a recipe my Grandma has been making forever, and my Mom does now too. It's a piece of chicken in a white wine and mandarin orange sauce over rice. It's my absolute favorite, and it was all I wanted.
"So when I got off the bus, I gave my Mom and my Dad a hug. And then they took me to a hotel room they had rented, where they had a whole tray of it waiting. I devoured that entire tray. They also had bread pudding, which is one of my favorites. To say it lived up to expectations is an understatement."
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