Eighteen years later, Steven McDonald can smile about his 2003 Thanksgiving meal, wolfed down between flights out of the Baghdad airport.
“The meals consisted of MRE’s,” the retired airman explained.
And how were they that day?
“Terrible,” he said with a chuckle.
Then he gave a little credit to the Meals Ready to Eat, as they’re officially known.
“Some are good and some are not,” he acknowledged. “We’d usually trade ’em around. Some people like different things.”
The 24 MRE’s available in 2003 ranged from beef stew with mushroom gravy to jambalaya to chicken with Thai sauce.
The Air Force provides somewhere north of 50 million meals a year to personnel around the globe.
Meals come in a variety of forms — entrees in base dining facilities, boxed flight meals, and individual meals, rations and group rations in the field.
And MRE’s, which get some overhaul every year, but still get labeled as “Meals Wretched to Eat.” (For the record, Chicken with Thai sauce left the menu after 2004. The mushroom gravy version of beef stew is gone, but basic beef stew remains).
Oh, and did we mention that they have a shelf life of “2 to 3 years” in 75-degree temperatures?
In Baghdad, in 2003, MREs were the only option for McDonald’s crew on Nov. 27.
“It is Thanksgiving Day and we’re flying,” the 1976 Fort Ashby High grad recalls. “We were in between missions, waiting on a load and eating lunch.”
The busy schedule was typical for the 32-year veteran of the Navy and West Virginia Air National Guard who retired in 2013.
“For months we were flying out of Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time,” he explains. “One day we’d go to Afghanistan and the next day we’d go to Iraq.”
The C-130 carried cargo of all types —food, munitions, personnel.
But even with a hectic schedule between 2 war zones, and MRE’s to chow down, McDonald has one overriding memory.
“I hate to say it, but I loved it.”