Being a meal card holder has its benefits. It's awesome to have the perfect excuse to get out at 1730. It's food you get to enjoy without having to cook it. All you have do is overlook the fact that the meals are deducted from your pay when you're assigned a barracks room and the fact that there's barely any chow left by the time you get there —but outside of those details, it's great!
That optimism starts to wane, however, after eight months of eating the same seven entrees ad nauseam. Then, one glorious day, the cooks throw you a curve-ball by turning what's normally a grab-and-go dinner into an elaborate, fine-dining experience.
You'll rarely hear the lower enlisted complain when they're about to get something that's not just decent but actually really good. (In reality, lower enlisted troops would probably complain about being given a brick of gold because it's "too heavy," but that's beside the point).
It might seem like random chance, but there's a method to the madness.
No one likes being stuck on-post during a holiday. If your leave form got denied or you just didn't feel like putting in for a mileage pass, it often means your ass will be stuck on staff duty.
Thankfully, the cooks also get screwed out of block leave and work holidays with us. Even if it's not a big holiday that revolves around a massive meal (we're look at you, Thanksgiving), the cooks will still serve something festive.
Also, your chain of command will usually pop in to serve the food on the line. Savor that moment.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brian Lautenslager)
2. The lead-up to best-chef competitions
In the service, there's a competition for cooks in which they're expected to deliver a gourmet meal to a judge that has the emotionless vile of Gordon Ramsey with the knife-handing ability of a Drill Sergeant.
They don't want to mess it up and will prepare the only way possible: by practicing. And that practice tastes delicious.
If you thought Air Force dinging facilities were leagues above the rest during the rest of the year...
(U.S. Air Force photo by Lan Kim)
3. Right before the unit is about to get bad news
It's basic psychology. If you outright tell the troops that their deployment got extended, they're going to flip the tables over. If you break it to them gently over a steak-and-lobster dinner that somehow found its way to Afghanistan, they'll take it slightly better.
This is so common in the military that any time the commander shows up and asks for a crate of ice cream bars for the troops, the Private News Network and Lance Corporal Underground buzz with rumors.
"Can we get you anything else, Specialist? Steak sauce? Another drink? Another three months in this god-forsaken hellhole? How about some cake? We got cake!"
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson)
4. When high-ranking officials make the rounds
Not even the cooks are exempt from the dog-and-pony show that comes with a general's visit. In fact, while the other lower enlisted are scrubbing toilets in bathrooms the general will never realistically visit, the cooks know that the mess hall is the go-to spot to bring the generals to give them a "realistic" view of the unit.
If you're willing to stomach the off-chance of being dragged into a conversation with a four-star general about "how the commander and first sergeant 100% absolutely always treat you like a real human being and that, oh boy, do you definitely love the unit," then you're in for one of the best meals the cooks can offer.
You think they'll serve the same scrambled eggs that they serve the average boot to the Commandant of the Marines? Hell no. Especially not if they get some kind of warning. That's you cue to grab food and dash.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans)
5. Taco Tuesday (and any other themed meal days)
There's no way in hell any troop would willingly miss Taco Tuesday at the DFAC. Even if you don't post flyers about it, troops will magically crawl out of the woodwork if it means they're getting free tacos.
As much as everyone in the unit uses their cooks as punching bags for jokes, they can deliver some mighty fine meals when they try.
Everyone loves the cooks on Taco Tuesday.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valentina Lopez)
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