IT'S 0200 and SFC Alvin Bolden and three of his seven-member crew are busy preparing breakfast for as many as 450 1st Infantry Division tankers from Fort Riley, Kan.'s, 4th Battalion, 37th Armor.
When the first meal of the day is over, they'll have scrambled or fried about 150 dozen eggs, some 14 pounds of ground beef, 28 pounds of bacon and 20 pounds of sausage.
Their patrons are still groggy from the short night and come through the chow line to energize themselves before hitting the tank ranges. They won't stop to wonder where the 50 gallons of milk, orange juice and coffee came from, and won't know that Bolden and his crew picked the drinks up from the main post dining facility, in the rear, a day before.
The field mess crew, normally part of the division's 2nd Brigade Consolidated Dining Facility, supports 4th Bn., 37th Armor, soldiers during their annual 30-day tank qualification runs at the SSgt. David Q. Douthit Gunnery Range -- the "field" site some 30 miles from Fort Riley's main post area.
And it's far from what most soldiers would classify as field conditions. Here, in a permanent structure, complete with tablecloths and flowers on the tables, breakfast and supper are the same as what soldiers in garrison eat, said Bolden, grateful that the tankers eat MREs for lunch. "It would be too much for us to handle three 'A' [regular] meals per day."
Bolden was thankful, too, that he was given seven KPs each day to complement his own crew, which works in two three-man shifts, from about 0200 to mid-afternoon, and from mid-afternoon into the night, respectively.
A day before Tank Table VIII qualifications began, however, everyone pulled together to prepare a traditional victory meal. Normally presented after the last crews have qualified, battalion officials decided it should be done at the outset, "to give the soldiers the motivation to kick butt," Bolden said.
The fixings included main courses of ribs, steak smothered in mushrooms and onions, baked and fried chicken, and burritos, corn dogs and pizza. The extensive menu also included rice pilaf, baked potatoes, various salads, pastries and ice cream, said floor supervisor Sgt. Bob Jolley, whose job is to ensure that nothing ever runs out.
"This morning, we ran out of bacon just as the battalion commander came through the line," he remembered. "Luckily, we always have a back-up meat. Because you never turn the oven off, and the meat's pre-cooked, it was no problem.
"I take care of the KPs, too, to make sure that the water is hot enough to sterilize the dishes, among other things," Jolley added. And he's the man in charge of meeting meal schedules.
"Unlike the shift workers, I'm here all the time, including weekends, when everybody else gets to go in to main post," Jolley said, with a sigh. "I was up at 0100 getting ready for breakfast, and I'll be here until 2100 tonight.
"This is generally a very unappreciated MOS," Jolley reflected. "There are good days and bad days. Once you get to be an NCO in this MOS, the load gets real heavy, and it gives you moments of doubt about what you're doing."
Then he remembers what Bolden says: "This is probably one of the most important jobs in the Army. After all, without food, soldiers couldn't perform their jobs. Look at the Iraqis. Without food, they simply surrendered," Bolden said.
"When soldiers come through the line and if even one of them says 'thank you,' it makes my day," Jolley added. "And out here, people do say that all the time."
Soldiers, dated May 1995
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