Fried Bologna and Pinto Beans
J. D. Pendry
I remember my first Army chow line - 1971, Reception Station, Fort Ord, California, breakfast. The first server in the line plopped an unasked for scoop of undercooked scrambled eggs onto my compartmented tray. The trays and their accompanying brown cups were practically indestructible. The Army's first attempt at Kevlar I believe. "Bacon or ghetto steak?" asked the cook behind the serving line, enunciating ghetto as gett-ttoe. Not seeing anything resembling steak I asked, "Can I just have some of that bologna?" "Damn hick", he muttered as he tossed a piece of fried bologna onto the tray with the runny scrambled eggs. That morning I discovered gravy was called creamed beef, or more commonly SoS and since I had bologna, I couldn't have any because in the Army creamed beef is a breakfast meat and you only get one of those. To make it worse there were no biscuits. That was one of my first Army lessons. It wasn't a lesson about breakfast menus; it was a lesson about being categorized because of who I was.
One of the more popular fast food establishments in this region of wild wonderful West Virginia is Biscuit World. The other day they advertised in the Daily Mail that you could get a fried bologna sandwich for $1.99 or a bowl of pinto beans with green onions and corn bread for $2.99. Definitely regional menu selections, but also the reason why there's a Biscuit World popping up on every corner while other places are closing their doors. What do you think the reaction would be if you tried to order fried bologna or pinto beans in New York City? I expect it would be much like the one I got in the mess hall 30 years ago.
I'm proud of who I am and where I come from. My state has the highest per capita rate of military veterans of any state in the union. Recently, the commander in chief visited our National Guard headquarters and commended them for being first in the nation in strength and readiness for the past four years. That doesn't have a lot to do with what I want to talk about here, but hey, it's my article so I'll brag a little if I want.
The greatest thing about America is our variety of people and our regional cultures. Things we laugh about and poke fun at cause ethnic wars in other countries. We're not about to have a group hugging COO moment here, but there are some things worth thinking about. We categorize, stereotype, love or hate people in our country because of who they are. It's always been like that. For all of our faults, however, I guess we can be grateful that we've never had the problems we see in other countries - not recently anyway, but there was that Civil War thing... then again, maybe we do and our methods of trying to destroy one another are just a little more sophisticated than being hacked to death with a machete. Considering what some have endured maybe a little machete hack would be less painful. Even with all of our differences, often more talked about than our sameness, we are able to hold together an incredible country - and most of us would fight at the drop of a hat to keep it that way. Then after the fight, we'd start picking on one another again.
Our great American society spilled over into the Army because that's where soldiers come from. The political correctness cops for example make it quite difficult to exercise candor.
You can't call a meathead a meathead anymore. If you do, you'll inherit the investigation from hell and at the end of it, you'll likely be guilty of abusing power and eight or ten other things. The problem is, afterwards the meathead will still be a meathead. He'll just be a meathead with a false sense of importance and self-esteem newly motivated to run to the political correctness cops whenever he's offended. The problem is that he's often offended by such terrible things as... well, being held to standards.
Another part of our American culture also comes into the Army. It's the part where, my neighborhood is tougher than yours is, my school is tougher than yours, my team can kick your team's... It's good to be proud of who you are and how tough you play the game.
Some of us however, are carried away with our rhetoric and sound a little bit stupid when spouting it. The discussions about the black beret are a good illustration.
While we play "my stuff's tougher than your stuff", adult defenders of our country actually say some dumb things. The most common are comments from misguided knot-heads, who consider themselves "elite" feeling it's necessary to degrade every soldier in the Army who did not attend Ranger school. A field grade officer actually equated giving out black berets to issuing everyone in the Army a Congressional Medal of Honor. I couldn't help but to think, "this is a leader...?" If this is the kind of thinker that's running around beneath a black hat maybe it's not a good idea to give them to the rest of the Army because the one he wore obviously sucked out his brain.
Can I share a story? On a cold, wet, foggy night in February somewhere in the German countryside a whole gaggle of lost convoys turned up at a REFORGER support site a few dozen soldiers and I were operating. They were lost - not uncommon at REFORGER time in Germany; cold, wet, etc. and most were about to not be where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there. We staged and refueled their vehicles for them. Fed them hot chow, gave them a warm, dry place to roll out their fart sacks, spent the night regaining convoy clearances and accounting for them to the MACOM, fed them hot A's the next morning, then put them back on the road on the right convoy route. Do you know what? None of these soldiers looked at my cooks, fuel handlers, mechanics, supply soldiers, admin people or MPs and said, "Gee, we wished you were Rangers." Actually, all they said was thanks, and they said it often and meant it. You know what else? The support we provided to them let them know that we appreciate their work too.
Now back to the I'm better than you are stuff. The Army is an efficient machine at doing what it does - fighting our nation's wars. The only reason it's efficient is the interoperability (big word - means all the parts work together as designed) of all the different specialties that make up this team. Like the new motto states, we are "An Army of One". All soldiers, all specialties comprise one entity with one common mission. We compliment one another and go together like cornbread, green onions and pinto beans.
As the hat soap opera continues, just remember that the people who you categorize today because of who they are and allow your ego to offend may be the people you depend on tomorrow - and that's a two-way street.
Now, I think I'm going to go make a fried bologna sandwich - I may even put some sauerkraut on it Ed.