Even with something like breakfast, which seems simple, the Army had its own way of doing things. Once we got done with physical training (PT), we had 90 minutes to eat and get dressed. Some of the married soldiers went home to eat and change. For the soldiers living in the barracks, we came back all sweaty and hot from the run and went straight to the mess hall.

To get our food, we had to sign in with the “headcount.” That was a soldier detailed for the day to sign people in and take money from the officers. I did that on occasion. Got to miss PT, which I didn’t mind, but was pretty much boring duty. The headcount reports in at meal time, sits in a chair as the soldiers file in, flash a meal card, and then sign their name.

They probably have an electronic version of this today, but the headcount was to help the mess sergeant (head cook) get an idea of how many soldiers he had to plan to feed.

The mess hall was a small room with a serving line and tables to eat at. The room didn’t look nice at all. Think cafeteria, and then knock it off a couple notches on the quality scale. Well, maybe more than a couple of notches. The Army made no effort to try to make it better. Functional. That was it.

The trays were like what you’d find in a cafeteria, with the top corners cut off so four can fit on a table. The plates were white, though I doubt if the Army was thinking of using the color to make the food look better.

One of the shifts of the cooks served the food on the line. The eggs would already be cracked and sitting out on the line in bowls, waiting to be used. Most of the food was pretty standard to what you’d find. One of the typical Army breakfasts was chipped beef, which was beef in a creamy gravy. It didn’t look very good, but actually wasn’t too bad. The nickname for it was “Shit on a Shingle.”

Fruit was usually bananas and Red Delicious apples. There was also had a small section of bagels, but very limited choices on what do with them. At one point, I was on the Dining Facility Council and got the mess sergeant to add things like cream cheese. One day we got a new mess sergeant and all of that was gone overnight. Disappointing.

Drinks were coffee, tea, water and juice. The juice was usually in a pitcher on ice. No sweet rolls, donuts, pastries, or anything like that.

We didn’t have to race through the food like we did in Basic Training (there, we were often headed to the washing line still eating our food!). Once we were finished, we took the trays to a rack next to the kitchen. Soldiers did not work in the back on kitchen duty. Contractors — usually women — did that. The only time I did kitchen duty was while I was at Reception Station before Basic Training. Never saw that again while I was in the Army.

After breakfast, a walk back to the barracks to clean up and get ready for the next formation.