For Military Diners, Iraq Is a Real Mess

Those living and working on U.S. military bases in Iraq have to put up with many hardships, but a lack of food is not one of them. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, troops can choose from an enormous array of hot and cold dishes.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Countless Americans are sending care packages of lovingly wrapped Skittles, Pop Tarts, Slim Jims and home-baked cookies across the globe to give U.S. troops in Iraq a high-calorie taste of home. It's laudable, it's patriotic, and it certainly is appreciated. And for many of the troops, it's well deserved. But it's not, strictly speaking, necessary. NPR's John Hendren reports the troops are not exactly starving.

JOHN HENDREN reporting:

In isolated outposts across the Iraqi desert, there are sun burnt soldiers chomping dinner out of plastic MRE bags in the evening swelter. This is not their story. This is a story about Fobbits, military parlance for the base-bound soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, who live on FOBs or forward operating bases. Fobbits dine on surf and turf in the air-conditioned splendor of the DFAC, dining facility.

Sergeant CLINTON FRASIER(ph) (Sgt. First Class) The prime rib, the T-bone steak, the crab leg, lobster tails.

HENDREN: Sgt. First Class Clinton Frasier is the top non-commissioned officer at DFAC No. 1 in Balad, one of four.

Sgt. FRASIER: We try to make the soldiers feel like they're as close to home as possible, even though they're in a combat environment.

HENDREN: Tonight's menu is typical.

Sgt. FRASIER: Tonight we have hamhocks, grilled pork chops, chicken cordon blue, roast beef, rice pilaf, garlic-roasted potatoes, seasoned green beans, seasoned corn, onion gravy, garlic bread, hot rolls, and cream of broccoli soup.

HENDREN: Still hungry? Try the short order line.

Sgt. FRASIER: Pork and beans, ravioli, burritos, baked chicken wings, cheese sticks, chicken tenders, French fries, onion rings.

HENDREN: So much food, so much time. With this vast proliferation of comfort comestibles, the temptation to treat each meal as a celebration is compelling. Just ask a Fobbit.

Ms. SARAH GODIVA RODGERS (Soldier) My name is Sarah Godiva Rogers and I order parts for the Humvees. I sit behind a desk and in front of the computer basically almost all day.

HENDREN: Three times a day, Rogers and Fobbits like her face an array of tempting choices.

Sgt. FRASIER: Pizza, chicken wings, chicken nuggets. They also have corn dogs, hot dogs, French fries, onion rings, hot pockets in there also.

HENDREN: Go ahead. Try a little of each.

Ms. ROGERS: I want to try which ones are good, and if I don't like it then I can just have another one right in front of me. Plus, for me, I was raised without leaving food on your plate.

HENDREN: It's a slippery slope.

Ms. ROGERS: Before I got here, when we were doing the training in Kuwait, I've lost a lot of weight to where I can pull up my pants without unbuttoning them. And now they fit right. And one, my small pants, it seems like it's about to bust open.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HENDREN: And you blame the food, don't you?

Ms. ROGERS: Oh, mostly food.

HENDREN: Then, of course, there's dessert, the diet killer.

Sgt. FRASIER: We have everything from cheesecake to chocolate cake, devil's food cake, yellow cake. We also have sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie. We have ice cream. Everything a growing soldier needs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROGERS: Before I even get my main meal, I say hmm, let's see what's a good dessert for today. And some of co-workers would have dessert at the DFAC and they still take a dessert-to-go plate. And most of the times I'm guilty at it because I would have ice cream for dinner and then I would go to the movies. And then I would have another scoop of ice cream at the theater.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HENDREN: Every Fobbit has a strategy. Lieutenant Colonel Brian McNurney's(ph) is to pace himself.

Lieutenant Colonel BRIAN MCNURNEY: I try to snack throughout the day so I don't get to that point where I'm still hungry, I got to run down to the Burger King.

HENDREN: That's right, some bases have a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a Subway, and they're open 24/7. It's a conspiracy of plenty and the food service workers are in on it.

Lt. Col. MCNURNEY: They're very willing to give you extra helpings. I mean, if you so much as nod your head, another pork chop, or another rib, or another whatever, slaps on the plate.

HENDREN: For some soldiers, it's all too much. Major Polly Graham is a nutrition manager for the base.

Major POLLY GRAHAM (Base Nutrition Manager) One of the DFACs does have a healthy eating room, so the people that frequent that particular room are not really tempted by all of the higher fat, more unhealthy choices.

HENDREN: All this means the U.S. military has created a series of bistros across Iraq where troops can find as much comfort as comfort food.

John Hendren, NPR News at DFAC Number One in Balad.

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