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.