One of the events my company always had every year was organization day. Like the office Christmas party, except it was on the weekend and we were directed to attend. For this one, the new first sergeant, a woman, decided that a work detail was going to make potato salad in the mess hall. Since I was in a platoon of sergeants, I got the detail.

I was a mixture of worried and annoyed. Worried because I didn’t know how to cook that well. I didn’t exactly grow up in a cooking environment, and there are a few family horror stories (see my Thursday post for one). When I ate in the mess hall in basic training, I was shocked at how good food could taste.

And I was annoyed because the work detail was on the day of the mandatory party. I had to get up before dawn on the day when I usually got to sleep a little later. Grumble, gumble.
Half-asleep, I showed up at the mess hall, more zombie than human being. The mess hall was way too bright, even if the walls were dingy.

“First Sergeant,” I told her, “I don’t know how to cook.”

“Of course you do,” she said. I could hear it in her voice: Silly! All women know how to cook.

But I was stuck. The Army’s primary goal was ‘accomplish the mission.’ When we are told to do something, no one wants to hear why you couldn’t do it. They just wanted to know it was done.

“You’re all going to peel the potatoes,” the first sergeant said.

Oh, okay. I could do this. Just give me a potato peeler.

No potato peeler. The mess hall did not have any!

“Use this.” The first sergeant handed out chef’s knives with eight inch blades.

It was a big freaking knife! I’d never even seen one that large before. How I was going to peel potatos with it? So I studied the russet potato on the cutting board.

Ah ha! I had a solution. I turned the potato sideways and sliced off the end. Then I turned it again and cut off the side, and I kept turning it and cutting off where I saw potato skin. Soon I had this rectangular-shaped potato, and glue-like starchiness all over my hands, the blade, and the knife handle.

It was a slow process. Everyone else had piles of peeled potatoes while I was working on my second. By the time I finished it, the first sergeant saw how I was peeling and was quite horrified. Now she believed me.

The bad part? Two other people brought potato salad to the party, and no one touched the first sergeant’s version.

First Sergeant – 0; Private – 0; Potato – 1.