During a 2012 deployment to Afghanistan, there were two things I was always on the lookout for. One was a green-on-blue attack: they seemed like a regular occurrence in Regional Command Southwest and one even involved the secretary of defense and the disarming of U.S. service members (that was really no big deal, though). The other was a portly master gunnery sergeant who roamed Camp Leatherneck and helped himself to any snacks left unattended.
Some of the victims were high-value targets. I’m talking about the good stuff: Pop-Tarts, homemade treats from the states, and his prey of choice — Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. One day, my master sergeant and I teamed up on a devious countermeasure. We replaced her usual bowl of roasted edamame with wasabi edamame before she left for a regular meeting. Right on cue, Master Guns rolled through and scooped up a big old handful without even saying hello. He ate them all at once and the poor bastard choked so hard I thought he might die right then and there.
There were other important snacks during that deployment, too. I consumed no fewer than three Clif bars and one protein shake a day. A sergeant I knew took it to the next level with some kind of Russian protein powder derived from sika deer antler that I’m pretty sure was not USDA-approved. Rip-It, ramen, and food liberated from our international colleagues were obviously perennial favorites.
What other all-time greats deserve a spot on the deployment snack manifest? Here’s what the Task & Purpose gear review crew had to say:
- Joe Plenzler, contributing writer and Marine veteran: A can of Dinty Moore beef stew with label removed and replaced with label of Alpo dog food. Got the Marines every time. “Sir, are you eating….dog food?” “Marine, nowhere on the label does it say unfit for human consumption. Plus 54 grams of protein!”
- Scott Whisler, contributing writer and Marine veteran: We would have our families send us chicken-flavored ramen and then raid First Strikes for the chicken packs and cook them together. Never done it any other time than on deployment.
- Joel Mason, contributing writer and Army National Guard veteran: It was mostly Rip-Its and Pop-Tarts. We didn’t have a lot of options.
- Brett Allen, contributing writer and Army veteran: My mother-in-law used to send care packages with bags of homemade Chex mix. The stuff was like crack in the operations office. I had to hide it just so I’d actually get some. Also, watermelon Sour Patch Kids.
- W.E. Linde, contributing writer and Air Force veteran: I had an addiction to jelly beans while deployed once. I could not control myself, and we were in Iraq over Easter so a lot of people sent jelly beans over in care packages. I ran the SCIF, and our Squadron Chief was chatting with me when I said something like, “I’m glad we’re almost through with these jelly beans. I can’t control myself with them in the office.” Not two days later, I come in and someone says, “Chief left you a present.” It was a 20-pound box of jelly beans. I was mad, but I also didn’t let them get rid of it.
- Paul O’Leary, contributing writers and Army veteran: Trader Joe’s chili mango slices. The greatest thing to have arrived in a care package.
- Corey Foster, director of performance revenue (and civilian): My dad ate canned corned beef hash at least once a week until the day he died. We all thought it was gross, but he said that it was the only enjoyable part of Vietnam. He continued to eat it because the disparity between the good feeling of eating corned beef hash versus all the other horrible things they dealt with in-country was somehow a mental thing he wanted to relive regularly.
- I hated the stuff but I never turned down a bowl of it when he offered. Now that he’s gone, I still eat it about once a year.
- Paul Szoldra, editor-in-chief and Marine veteran: “Charms, hands down.”
Did we miss any? Do you want to admonish Paul for bringing the curse of Charms upon us all? Are you a retired master gunnery sergeant who is furious about nearly being assassinated with dried vegetables? Let’s hear it in the comments section!
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