This is today's Army? "Roasted Peppered Tenderloin of Bison with Black Mushroom Sauce, Sweet Potato Fondant and Broccolini"? That's not something normally included in an MRE (Meals, Ready-to-Eat).
Or how about a Marine staff sergeant preparing something called "Galantine of Veal Loin with Sweetbread, Foie Gras Mousse, Truffles, Pistachios and Rhubarb Confit?"
But that was the fare lovingly prepared by service cooks for the USO of Metropolitan Washington's "Salute to Military Chefs" recently at Max's of Washington, a restaurant near the White House.
Of course, the average soldier, sailor, Marine and airman normally will not be within 100 miles of that kind of grub. But these weren't your average military chefs, either. These were the ones who have been nabbed by the top brass to cook in admirals' quarters and chiefs of staff messes.
The Washington USO asked the offices of the president, vice president, secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the chiefs of staff and commandants of each service branch to select one representative from their kitchens for special recognition.
"These people are always behind the scenes working," said Elaine Rogers, president of the Metropolitan Washington USO.
So far there are no plans for a "Salute to Military Mechanics" or other such gala for other troops who work behind the scenes, possibly because they cannot cook.
The recognition had its downside, though. As part of their honor, the nine chefs selected were put to work cooking gourmet meals for the 150 guests and were in the kitchen beginning at 3 a.m., about 16 hours before dinner.
Many of the guests were representatives of companies that support the Washington USO, and the dinner amounted to a thank you for the organization's corporate sponsors.
The Washington organization, the largest USO in the world, includes 1,500 volunteers who help provide services for 300,000 military personnel and their families in the region. This year, USO Washington will spend $4 million on efforts that include emergency housing, emergency food assistance, family services, information and referral services, travel and transportation assistance, holiday programs and tickets for entertainment, Rogers said.
For their trouble, the chefs each were presented with an engraved frying pan by well-sated, high-ranking representatives from the Joint Chiefs of Staff who participated in the feast.
Navy Vice Adm. Donald Pilling, vice chief of naval operations, spoke admiringly of Navy Petty Officer Benny Brockington, responsible for the "Potato Blinis with Sour Cream and Caviar." Pilling related that when he learned that Brockington was available to cook for his own quarters, "you can bet I was first in line."
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki was on hand to present frying pans to the Army chefs, including Sgt. 1st Class Michael Young, who helped create that favorite dish of infantrymen everywhere, "Noisette of Atlantic Salmon and Sea Scallop Quenelle with Roasted Shallots and Merlot Sauce."
Gen. Terrence R. Dake, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, boasted that his chefs could do more than cook. "We train them for other things than being a chef," Dake said. "Every Marine is a rifleman."
Each of the six courses was accompanied by a matching fine wine donated by a California organic vineyard. The meal culminated with an elegantly crafted "Passion Fruit Charlotte with Pistachio Tartlette, Raspberry Coulis," created by Navy and Coast Guard chefs.
At the end of the evening, Jay Killeen, a senior vice president for Science Applications International Corp., a high-tech research firm and major sponsor of the event, had one question for the assembled top military officers: "How do you stay thin?"
The Army's selection of the 29th Infantry Division to command the NATO stabilization force in Bosnia during a future rotation likely will mean major changes in training for many Virginia and Maryland National Guard soldiers. "It's serious business, and it has serious implications," said Brig. Gen. Steven Blum, the new commander of the division, which is headquartered in Fort Belvoir and includes many Guard soldiers living in Virginia, Maryland and the District.
The Army announced last week that the 29th will command the Bosnia force for a six-month rotation beginning in October 2001. In addition to about 400 soldiers from the division headquarters, the 29th also will likely send a battalion-size task force of about 500 soldiers, including three rifle companies, Blum said.
The announcement means the Guard will reorient training toward peace and stability operations, officials said. "It's going to change the way we do business in the next two years," said Capt. A.A. Puryear, a division spokesman.
The NATO force is assigned to enforce a peace agreement between previously warring factions in Bosnia. "It's a very tenuous situation," Blum said. "There's a very low tolerance for errors, because they could be catastrophic."
The 29th has previously sent company-size elements to Bosnia and also participated in the Sinai peacekeeping mission. The deployment to Bosnia will be the first time the division headquarters has deployed overseas since World War II, when the 29th landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day. The Army announcement placing a guard unit in charge of a NATO combat force reflects the Pentagon's growing reliance on reserve and guard troops as the size of the active force shrinks. "This is refreshing to somebody like myself who thought integration was the way to go," Blum said.
The first National Guard division slated to take command of the Bosnia force is Texas's 49th Armored Division, which is scheduled to deploy in March. About 150 soldiers based in Laurel are accompanying the Texas National Guard on the six-month deployment.
Blum said no decision has been made on which of the 29th's rifle companies could be deployed to Bosnia. The majority of the force is based in Virginia and Maryland, but the division also has troops in three other states. "It's my intent to take soldiers who are qualified and who want to go," Blum said.
"I have mixed feelings," said one soldier likely to go, Maj. Christine Stark, 35, an officer assigned to the division headquarters. "I have a husband and a family. It means Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays away from home, but I am excited about the prospect."
Military Matters appears every other week. Steve Vogel can be reached at email@example.com via e-mail.
CAPTION: Above, Navy Chief Petty Officer Antoinette "Chief Mac" McClary-Hall, left, coordinates plans for the evening as military chefs prepare the USO dinner at Max's of Washington restaurant. Below, Ignatius Baran III, of the Coast Guard, decorates plates for the evening's dessert.