(This Dave Barry column was originally published August 18, 2002.)
The U.S. Army is developing a new Combat Sandwich. Really. Army food technicians say this sandwich can remain edible, without refrigeration, for three years. Granted, that's nowhere near the staying power of those $4.50 hot dogs they sell at airports, some of which have been rotating on their grills since the Lindbergh flight. But it's still impressive.
I recently had an opportunity to field-test the new Combat Sandwich, and will give you my review once I get my new artificial stomach.
No, seriously, I'm fine, and my review will follow this informative: HISTORY OF MILITARY FOOD
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The legendary French general Napoleon "Bone" Aparte once observed that "an army marches on its stomach." Of course Napoleon was talking about French soldiers, who drank large quantities of wine and thus often could not march on their actual feet ("Forward . . . CRAWL!"). In battle, they routinely shot at their own artillery to make it shut up so they could sleep.
But the point is that food is vital for soldiers. The ancient Romans understood this: No matter how far their soldiers ventured from Rome, they knew that, come dinnertime, the Domino's delivery chariot would come thundering into camp, driven by a man who knew that if he was more than 30 minutes late, he would be disemboweled.
By the American Civil War, the military had developed a ration called "hardtack, " which was similar to plywood, but not as tender. The advantage of hardtack was that it did not spoil, so if soldiers were pinned down on the battlefield, unable to get supplies, they could simply reach into their knapsacks, pull out their hardtack, and throw it at the enemy.
"Retreat!" the enemy would shout. "They're throwing hardtack!"
In World War II, the army developed "K-rations, " which were critical to the outcome of the war, because the allied soldiers knew that if they won, they would no longer have to eat K-rations. After the war, tons of leftover K-rations were given to starving war refugees, who gave them back. Today they are used primarily in road construction and fruitcake.
During the Cold War, there was a fierce competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to gain superiority in the field of military food. This culminated in the Red Army's development of the legendary "Big Ivan" Tactical Assault Sausage, which was the size of a subway car and theoretically could feed one infantryman for 400 years. In 1987, a dozen of these babies were dropped from bombers to Soviet troops in Afghanistan; shortly thereafter Communism collapsed.
So food has played a vital role in military history, which is why the army's new Combat Sandwich is so exciting. When I heard about it, I asked the Army to send me one, and the Army graciously sent me two: one barbecued chicken and one pepperoni, both wrapped in brown military foil packets that you need a bayonet to open.
I field-tested these sandwiches on a Florida beach, where the harsh battlefield-style conditions included heat, sand and a large pink man walking around in a tiny red thong. If anything is going to ruin a person's appetite for a sandwich, it is suddenly finding yourself face to face with the flagrant crevasse that this man was sporting. I think the authorities should crack down (Har!) on this kind of beach attire. I think that Coast Guard ships should patrol along the beaches, and when they spot a large bethonged man ("CHEEKS HO!") I think that - Greenpeace be damned - harpoons should be employed.
But even under these conditions, the Combat Sandwich held up well. It's a "pocket" style sandwich, which means it looks as if it has spent time in somebody's pocket. But I thought it was quite tasty, in a spicy way. Of course, I think everything is tasty, including cold cuts so old that when you try to take them out of the refrigerator, they skitter away on little mold legs and hide behind the beer. I will eat food with an expiration date written in Roman numerals.
So I gave a few bites of Combat Sandwich to my wife, who is very strict about food freshness, always rooting through the refrigerator and throwing out pieces of pizza that, in my opinion, still have years of service left. She actually liked the Combat Sandwich. So did my mother-in-law, who is picky about most things, although she has graciously made an exception in my case.
In conclusion, the Combat Sandwich is a strong addition to our nation's combat-food arsenal. It is a tribute to the men and women who devised it, and the courageous barbecued chickens and pepperonis who gave their lives to make it possible. I know I speak on behalf of a grateful nation when I say: What's for dessert?
(c) 2009, Dave Barry
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