It had been an unusually quiet morning – a very good thing when you’re in the middle of a war zone. The pilots and medic crew with the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Taskforce Shadow Dustoff MEDEVAC are anxiously waiting for the next emergency call to come in from the battlefield. They were well into watching their third movie of the day and luckily had eaten lunch when the radio silence was broken. “MEDEVAC ! MEDEVAC! MEDEVAC – First up report to pad for Cat Alpha.” Before the transmission is complete, two pilots, the medic and crew chief are sprinting out the door into the 120 degree heat to their Black Hawk helicopter. A Cat Alpha call is the highest priority emergency medical call and the goal is to be able to get to the aircraft, don all of their protective gear, ready weapons and go wheels up to the call within five to six minutes. It is truly amazing that they can pull this off.
For sixteen days I will be embedded with the 101st Airborne MEDEVAC unit – going where they go, seeing what they see and of course, eating their chow. A full day with these guys can be a pretty intense experience. The second that call comes over the radio your adrenaline is pumping and then you’re running your ass off like Usain Bolt. You don’t know what you will end up seeing or how dangerous the situation will be. The medics are often pulling people off the battlefield under enemy fire. Throw in the high heat and the weight of the flak jacket and helmet and you can build up a serious appetite after two or three of these missions.
The crew only had one call today and thankfully it was not a serious injury. We still had to run to the helicopter, gear up and go through the whole adrenaline rush so when we returned to the airfield, I was starving. I headed back to my room to drop off my gear and made a B-line to the DFAC Luxembourg. DFAC is short for dining facility, one of the many acronyms that you have to learn if you’re going to spend time with the military. DFAC Luxembourg is a relatively new building on the scrawling Kandahar Airfield where 0ver 20,000 U.S. and NATO forces reside along with contractors from around the globe. It is one of many dining halls on the base where food is provided for the troops at no charge. There are also a few mainstream restaurants like TGIFriday’s and the soon to be opened KFC for those who want to pay for a little taste of bad food from home.
Luxembourg is a huge dining room that has two hot food lines, salad bars, a dessert bar and a short order counter where you can get a burger during the lunch and dinner hours. I would love to show you what this place looks like but the military said it was not possible to take pictures in the dining hall. That was odd to me since I have taken pictures in many dining halls on military bases. The short order counter usually has a pretty long line and in addition to the burgers you can usually get fries or some other type of deep fried side like onion rings or calamari rings that have the flavor and consistency of an engine gasket.
As I wait in the long line, I watch as the cook plops down dozens of greyish half-thawed patties onto the smoking griddle. The sizzle can be heard throughout the dining hall. There are no proper buns so I find a sesame seed roll and cut it in half with a plastic knife. Once the burgers are tested with a thermometer for proper well-done cooking temperature, the patties are tossed into a chaffing tray and we all use tongs to grab one. There wasn’t much in the way of fresh veggies on this particular day so I dressed up my burger with some unidentified cheese, some cucumbers and a package of Thousand Island dressing. Since I couldn’t bring my camera in, I got my burger and fries to go and ate it in my room.
If salt is your thing, you would love this burger. It was so salty that it cancelled out any beef flavor that it may have once had. The taste was almost like a breakfast sausage with the texture of a rubbery hot dog. The roll that I used was a little dry and bready. If I had to point to one good thing about the burger, I would have to say that the cheese stood out as the best tasting element. Despite the excess salt and dryness, I ate the whole thing. I was in need of food and it really didn’t matter what it tasted like.
I had a few good meals at the DFAC during my time at Kandahar Airfield. The baked eggplant dishes were good as was the chicken gyros. You could always find me with a smile on my face when the chocolate soft serve was being served. If you ever find yourself at Kandahar Airfield, I would suggest that you steer clear of the burger at the Luxembourg and go straight to the soft serve machine and get a big bowl of chocolate ice cream.