I’ve written a lot about my time in Rawah and the Euphrates river valley lately; there is no particular reason for doing so, that is just how it has happened to turn out (for now). I guess some of those memories are emerging more so because its summer, and its hot out.
But not Iraq hot – and anyone who has spent time in Iraq or Afghanistan will know what I am talking about.
Anyways, on to the story – When we were finally complete with our transfer of authority with the 3rd ACR in Tal’Afar, we were headed back to Mosul for what (we thought) was the easy life: a two-patrol a day patrol schedule (morning and evening), rotations here and there to ensure fixed site security, and augmenting the infantry battalions in cordon and searches, etc. And an INCREDIBLE chow hall; though it was new and fancy, it was eerie, and not quite the same [after the suicide bombing that resulted in the end of the original chow hall on 21 December, 2004 may those who perished rest in peace]. You were always watching your back.
Well, life was that way for a while. But about three weeks into that rotation, the Cavalry Squadron was ordered to head to Rawah… Now, as we left Tal’Afar, someone in Squadron’s senior leadership chain made the wise call to get rid of all of our T-rations and leave them for the 3rd ACR. Hell, we wouldn’t need them. We were headed back to Mosul! The land of the big-PX, and the chow hall, double-agents on the FOB who’d booby-trap things occasionally, and routine mortaring – but they swear they’d got that sorted out by now. So we thought nothing of it.
Until we got to Rawah. And until they began to resupply us with airdrops of food and water. After several weeks, the first ‘real’ food became available to us. The Squadron cooks got the field kitchen set up, and it was all-hands the night they opened (of course, except for those on duty or patrol). Dinner was the only meal served, daily. I remember standing in the chow line for at least an hour to get some hot chow from the field kitchen (that wasn’t an MRE that I heated via the sun, on top of my Stryker). Our first meal: Thanksgiving dinner. We were like ‘hey its late July, but whatever.’ The food was… ok. The turkey was dry despite being drenched in gravy, and had that odd sort of translucent rainbow-colored sheen to it. And the peas were extra small, and extra-wrinkled. And the stuffing was, sort of hard. And the shelf-stable bread was, well… shelf stable. We ate it. Some guys felt sick for a little. Some guys waited till everyone was served and tried to go back for seconds (and were denied).
And the next day dinner’s meal was… Thanksgiving dinner. And the day after that. And so on, and so forth.
Turns out that since we’d given up our T-rat’s to 3rd ACR, brigade had nothing for us. Eventually someone somewhere in the higher-echelon supply chain secured a months supply of expired (2002) Thanksgiving dinner T-ration provisions. And this is what we had to eat.
Living in the desert – like, in the desert desert – and as combat arms guys, we were thankful to have anything that wasn’t the teriyaki chicken MRE (I hated those); but ground-pounders still find things to complain about because it helps you know we’re still alive and probably OK – so we complained about the food. I think I ate dinner at the Squadron field kitchen for the first three days, and then gave up all hope, and went back to MRE’s. I could craft my own concoctions by adding different spice packages to other meals, and by securing other local spices and salts. And I could mix MRE parts and portions; for example, take cannelloni and add it along with the spaghetti with meat sauce, add jalapeno squeeze-cheese, and BAM – instant frickin’ Italian cuisine. Not quite like my grandmother makes, but goddamned good enough at the time.
It took me a few years to really be able to enjoy Thanksgivings stateside again. But only going for Thanksgiving dinner thrice, I avoided most of the bubble-gut that other guys got… which was particularly great for me since we had like, 8 slit-trench and burn-latrines. Nothing beats waiting around to get into the plywood box over a hole in the ground to have the trot’s…