Dinner before the box

Back in the days of the peacetime Army, when my unit would deploy to training at a major training area, we’d spend a couple of days in cantonment before actually going on maneuvers, or “into the maneuver box”. “Cantonment” is army-speak for living out of semi-camping like areas. We weren’t in barracks, but we weren’t quite in the field yet. Most major training areas have a staging area where troops get ready to go to the field. We’d spend a couple days getting vehicles and equipment ready, drawing supplies, and learning the ground rules for the training areas we would be working in.

Traditionally, the night before we actually went into the training area was “steak night” and the battalion cooks would fire up a grill or two made from 55 gallon drums cut in half and grill up some steaks. Mind you, Army steaks are tough as Chinese arithmetic, but it still beats the heck out of chili-mac. A grill or two set up outside the mess hall, and viola! steak for the troops!

So, there we are in the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Training Center. We’re going to go out and pretend to be the bad guys, so another unit can practice their skills against us. We were the Opposing Force. Normally, being the OpFor is a good gig. Lots of the fun stuff of playing army, without the stress of always being graded.

My crew and I had to make some minor modifications to our vehicle, such as adding on “enemy” flags and markings on our vehicle, as well as get some last minute glitches fixed. Time stands still for no man, and by the time we finished, the mess hall had only three steaks left. Being the good NCO I was, I sent my driver, then my gunner through the line to get their steaks and baked potatoes. Finally, my crew fed, I lined up to get the very last steak in the entire battalion. After a long, long, hard day of fiddling with all the stuff the Army could throw at me, I was gonna eat a steak. Man, my mouth was watering. The cook at the grill greeted me warmly (well, as warmly as a guy who had waited forever for my crew to show up could) and grabbed that VERY last steak with a set of tongs. He swung that precious slab of beef off the grill toward my plate…

He dropped the damn thing right in the dirt.

5 second rule in effect. The two week training exercise hadn’t even started, and I was tired and dirty. Might as well have a dirty steak. I brushed off the dirt, called whatever bits of grass that were sticking to it “my salad” and ate the damn thing.

It’s funny. I can’t really remember too many other things that happened on that trip to the field. But I remember that damn steak.

8 thoughts on “Dinner before the box”

  1. I can just picture you looking down at that steak in the dirt….Don’t know if I want to laugh or say “awww”. Both.

  2. Steak Dinner, at NTC. We are getting ready to roll into the box the next day. I have just come out of the MKT (Mobile Kitchen Trailer) with steak et al on my tray. “Whoop, Whoop, Whoop.” That is the sound, not of my excitement, but the M8 chemical alarm going off. I carefully set my steak dinner on the concrete “table” and go to MOPP IV. Since it was NTC in November, I really didn’t mind wearing a MOPP suit, anyway. Twenty-some minutes later, with the “all clear” given, and my steak as cold as the ambient temperature, there was no five-second rule. Into the trash with that succulent meat.

    1. I’ve heard about those steaks. Saw Bobby Flay take those tough-things on in a Throw-down a few years back. He challenged a really cool Army officer, I think, to one of his Throw-downs. I loved that show and have so much respect for the service men and women who make do with what they have and keep a sense of humor. Thanks, Xb.

  3. And it tasted damn good, didn’t it?

    It is amazing how good something tastes in the field that you wouldn’t swerve to avoid if you saw it on the highway!

  4. Those steak nights were the difference between surviving and living in the field.

    Like Charmin vs MRE toilet paper. Like having Tabasco in your ammo pouch (WAY before the Army starting putting it in MREs). Like making sure all your socks, T-shirts and underwear were DOUBLE zip-loc’d, THEN put into the wet weather bag. Like using 550 cord instead of the basic boot laces. (Although in Ranger School I did have an RI at Florida Phase cut mine off. I go through three phases and no prob, get to Florida and run into a jack ass with a pet peeve!)

    There are more living vs surviving…

    1. I had 550 cord on my jungle boots, but never on my leg boots. And I am pretty sure I never used the jungle boots in garrison with 550 cord.

      Never went to Ranger School, of course. But yeah, there’s a difference between surviving and living. And when every comfort you take has to be mounted on your back, surprisingly small conviences make a big difference in your quality of life.

      As a lightfighter, I’d usually go to the field from Monday to Friday. I’d take a single can of Coke along, stuffed in the rucksack somewhere. And either Thursday evening or Friday morning, I’d sip a nice warm Coke while everyone else was choking down an MRE with crappy old water.

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