BY JENNIFER RAWLINGS
( originally published in Change.org)
THE GENERAL, THE PRIVATES AND THE FAST FOOD
BY JENNIFER RAWLINGS
Currently there are approximately 200,000 troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They risk their lives every single day. Many of the more dangerous jobs fall on the shoulders of the privates and specialists. In most case, these troops range in age from 18-22.
As I have said many times before, I have been entertaining the troops for over ten years. I have been to both Iraq and Afghanistan and the violence in both countries is terrifying. The soldiers sleep in tents, connexes, c-huts, b-huts, and sometimes in ditches. Hot showers are a luxury and so are the porta-pottys.
These soldiers live on the extreme. There is the fear and chaos of a firefight accompanied by the doldrums and depression of 365 days spent sleeping in a tent and the monotony of down time.
Entertainment is exceedingly important in helping with the moral of the troops. Soldiers mark their yearlong deployments with entertainment highlights: Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, Comedy Show, country singer, or a meet and greet with a famous actor.
The days are further broken down by smaller markers: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mealtime is critical bonding and social time for the troops. There is always a long line in the chow hall during mealtime and the soldiers are NOT lining up because the food is good. They are lining up because it gives them a few moments of “normal” during their anomalistic day, week, month, and year.
On some of the larger bases there are fast-food outlets such as Burger King, Popeye’s chicken, and pizza. They are not store fronts like you see in a city. Often the outlets are in tents or a truck. For many soldiers these fast-food trucks help preserve their spirits.
For a young soldier in Afghanistan, away from home, lonely and tired, a double whopper with cheese and some greasy french-fries represents comfort. The taste and texture of the burger as it is washed down with a soda is familiar. It’s the same burger they used to eat in high school with their buddies. And for a fleeting moment the young soldier is blanketed in the comfort of familiarity. For a few minutes over lunch the nineteen year-old soldier feels normal and safe. After lunch the soldier picks up his M-16 and goes back to work.
General McChrystal shut down many of these fast-food outlets on the bases because he saw it as an example of “American excess” .
I couldn’t disagree more with General McChrystal. The fast-food outlets are like an “American flag” wrapped around the soldiers. It’s a symbol that helps the soldiers find the strength to make it through another day. It’s not about the food, its about the familiar and anything that can be done to bring one moment of joy to the men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan should be done.
I read Michael Hastings article in Rolling Stone with absolute shock and awe of General McChrystal’s behavior. He is definitely an intriguing man who I liked and disliked at the same time. It is a fantastic article that ultimately ended McChrystals career.
I have met a number of Generals and Sergeant Majors (highest rank on the enlisted side) and there is one quality that is shared on both the officer and enlisted sides of the military: these men and women care about and love these young soldiers as much as they do their own children. A thirty-year veteran in the military is no longer working for the paycheck. They are working for the troops.
I have never met General McChrystal and I am sorry for he and his family.
There are a number of pundits that have questioned whether or not the general should have been forced to resign over his comments. For those pundits, I have pasted the UNIFORM CODE OF MILITARY JUSTICE:
888. ART. 88. CONTEMPT TOWARD OFFICIALS
Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.