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What's That Mess in the Mess Hall?: Background information when reading Youngblood

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by Matt Gallagher

Youngblood by Matt Gallagher X
Youngblood by Matt Gallagher
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2016, 352 pages

    Sep 2016, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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About this Book

What's That Mess in the Mess Hall?

This article relates to Youngblood

Print Review

"The chow hall was a big white magnet north of the shopping gulch, a massive canopy that seemed to hover over the pale sands. Part circus tent, part martial pretense, it was ringed by blast walls and protected by counterbattery radar. It could serve over a thousand soldiers at a time and up to fifteen thousand a day, not including the ones who gorged at the nearby fast-food shacks." – From Youngblood by Matt Gallagher

Nose around on Google enough when looking for information about U.S. Army mess halls (although the term these days is dining facility), and you'll soon find a 2007 Army pamphlet called "Operating Procedures for the Army Food Program." For this civilian, the jargon within, and the acronyms, and the dozens upon dozens of rules from cash collection to food management teams to preparing various forms make it as quick to understand as IKEA assembly instructions.

So let's make it simpler than that IKEA cabinet with just too many different pieces. What's usually on a U.S. Army dining facility menu? There's nothing in the pamphlet about particular menu items, but an article posted two years ago states, "Most dining facilities now give the choice of a full-blown meal with two or more entrees, or the fast-food (burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, fries, chicken) of your choice. For the health conscious, there is normally a 'healthy-heart' menu, as well as a salad bar."

PancakesPretty standard stuff, but it's the logistics that are utterly fascinating. In 2011, Tyler Cabot of Esquire wrote about the 4,000-seat mess hall at West Point, one of the most prestigious military academies in the United States. It was breakfast time there, but the preparations for breakfast began after the dinner shift the previous evening, with sixty-gallon tubs of pancake batter made from "31 ½ gallons of whole milk, 24 gallons of buttermilk, 180 pounds of eggs, 42 pounds of sugar, 390 pounds of flour, 6 gallons of shortening. And don't forget the salt — 2 ¼ pounds of salt. And 6 gallons of vanilla extract."

It fell to a man named Wally to add thirty pounds of baking powder at 12:15 AM. Then, at 3:30 AM, sixteen cooks began the gargantuan task of making eight thousand pancakes in three hours. Wally alone had to flip three hundred pancakes per hour. Then at 4:45 AM, as the pancakes left the flattop, 15 were stacked atop each serving dish that came through and then were transferred to 48 warmers the size of double ovens on the other side of the room – all this for a ten-minute breakfast at 7:00 AM that included sausage as well, and cereal for those who didn't want pancakes.

Mess halls (okay, dining facilities, but it's fun to write "mess halls") are also host to holiday celebrations. For example, at Schofield Barracks, which is home to the Twenty-Fifth Infantry featured in Youngblood, Thanksgiving is celebrated at the 8th Theater Sustainment Command dining facility for more than 500 soldiers and their families. The feast includes all the usual fare, and a little extra, including food service soldiers' efforts at ice sculptures, gingerbread houses, and cakes shaped like the American flag, books, and patches of the various Army units there.

A civilian can't speak to the quality of the food in these Army dining facilities, but it is definitely interesting to have some insight into what it takes to serve an enormously honorable - and hungry - crowd.

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Rory L. Aronsky

This "beyond the book article" relates to Youngblood. It originally ran in February 2016 and has been updated for the September 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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