The Gray Hotdog
I send my four children a letter each month which includes a personal story from my days in the military. This is one of those stories.
When I was growing up, several times a year during the summer my dad would gather some logs and start a large bonfire. Around evening time when the fire had burned down to deep red coals with a few flickering flames, my aunts, uncles, and grandparents would show up at our farm with pitchers of tea, cans of soda, and large bowls filled with potato salad, coal slaw, baked beans, and other delicious goodies. Once things settled down, we kids would run over to a stack of limbs which dad had whittled down and select a stick with a sharp point at the end. The wisest of us kids would try to find a stick with a fork at the end with two sharpened points. Then we’d run over to an ice chest, pull out a pack of hotdogs, shove one or two on the end of our stick, and then dash to the fire to start the process of getting our hotdogs to just the right shade of blackened crust. Before long, the air would be filled with the delicious aroma of cooking hotdogs and the laughter of children and adults alike.
Flash forward 25 years. There I was in the Persian Gulf. The war with Iraq had ended, and my unit was in the process of deploying back to the United States. We’d spent weeks cleaning our equipment and getting it packed on container ships or cargo planes. The last week or so I was in Saudi Arabia, my aviation brigade was living in a parking garage just waiting for our turn to get bused to a nearby airport to catch a long anticipated flight home. Now even the United States only has a certain number of airplanes, so it’s not like we could all leave at once. So there I, and several thousand more of my fellow soldiers, was biding my time in the parking garage waiting for our turn to head home. It wasn’t bad at the parking garage compared to what we’d been through. I mean after all, we had just finished fighting a war. So things were definitely better. We had cots to sleep on, electric lights to see by, and hot food to eat three times a day. Our cooks were the last ones to pack up their equipment, so we were eating pretty well.
Then it happened. Our cooks got their orders to leave, so they packed their gear and after a final meal, they were gone. So what were I and the other 2,000 plus troops still waiting in the parking garage supposed to eat? Not to worry says our leaders. The U.S. Army personnel responsible for contracts had coordinated with local Saudi vendors to feed us, so we’d be taken well care of. (Yeah, sure we will. And I’ve got some valuable swampland I’d like to sell you real cheap.)
Anyway, for the next couple of days we got fed decent. The food wasn’t up to the standards of our own Army cooks, but it wasn’t bad. Then the U.S. Army personnel responsible for setting up the contracts with the Saudi vendors got their orders to board a plane and head back to the United States. Well once they left and there was no one to supervise the local Saudi vendors, we noticed the quality of our food head south real quick. I remember the last night I was in Saudi Arabia, I waited in a 1,000 person line for our supper meal. Once I finally worked my way up to the first food station, I held out my paper plate and the cook (I guess he was a cook), stabbed something gray which was about 5 inches long out of a can and shoved it onto my plate.
“What’s this?” I ask.
Naturally, the ‘cook’ doesn’t speak English, so the soldier behind me answers instead.
“I think it’s a hotdog,” says the soldier.
Hmm, I think. A hotdog? Now I’ve had quite a few hotdogs during my life. I don’t ever remember grabbing a gray hotdog out of my parents’ ice chest and putting it on my stick at one of our bonfires while growing up. And I don’t ever remember ordering a hotdog at a football game and getting something gray. Hotdogs are supposed to be red. What’s going on?
Well, I mosey up to the next food station, and someone shovels some kind of beans onto my plate. I don’t have a lot of memory of those beans, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t look anything like the baked beans my mom served at Thanksgiving or during one of our bonfire cookouts.
Finally, I go to the last food station. The ‘cook’ there reaches into a cardboard box and pulls out a hotdog bun and slaps it onto my plate. I immediately notice something strange about the bun.
Hmm, I think. I don’t remember my mom giving me a hotdog bun with something green growing on it.
I look again, and sure enough, not only is my ‘meal’ composed of a gray hotdog with mystery beans for a side, the hotdog bun has several splotches of green mold growing on it. I peek over the lip of the cardboard box and see that all of the hotdog buns have green mold growing on them.
Well, the last ‘food station’ was a large trashcan, so I, and hundreds of other soldiers, quickly deposited our ‘last meal’ in Saudi Arabia into the trashcan and made our way back to our cots. I vaguely remember hunting down a MRE to eat before going to bed.
Thankfully, I got on a plane the next morning and was soon on my way back to the good old United States where hotdogs are red and hotdog buns don’t have green on them.
Moral of the Story:: First off, hotdogs are meant to be red, not gray. If you ever see something that doesn’t look right (food or otherwise), the odds are it isn’t. Walk away real quick. Second, people (vendors or otherwise) need to be held accountable otherwise they’ll take shortcuts. So, if you’re ever in charge of something, make sure you hold people accountable so your ‘troops’ don’t get stuck with gray hotdogs. AIRBORNE!