Memories from K.I. Sawyer AFB

This B-52 is part of a memorial to those from K.I. Sawyer killed in a 1983 airplane crash near Gwinn. (Photograph by Sgt. Edwin A. Stamper, Base Audiovisual Services)

Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with saying “an army marches on its stomach.” I believe this to be true.

While in the Air Force I was never in want of a meal. It seldom rated a mention in the Michelin Guide but there was always plenty of it!

When I arrived at Sawyer, my first permanent duty station, in August of 1973, the enlisted airman’s chow hall was well into a 30-day run of hotdogs and/or fish for the dinner entree. It wasn’t a surprise to me since I had heard my Dad and brothers-in-law complain about Army chow. Couple this with something Technical Sgt. Battle, one of my drill instructors in basic training, would always tell us when we complained “a happy airman is a complaining airman!” (Yes, I did clean that up for publication.)

This epicurean nightmare soon came to an end and we once again feasted like the Strategic Air Command trained warriors we were. After meeting servicemen and women from other branches who were on TDY (temporary duty), I learned the Air Force had the best chow in the services — even if we had to occasionally endure, day after day, a menu of hotdogs and/or fish.

Speaking of meals, I ran across an article from the April 1, 1970, issue of The Mining Journal featuring the airmen and civilian women of the in-flight kitchen. This staff of six prepared almost 100 meals, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the flight crews and support personnel that couldn’t get to the chow hall, sometimes with as little notice as 15 minutes.

The meals arrived in a white bakery box, but since rank has its privileges, the meals were not quite the same. The flight crews got a full meal including appetizers, roast beef sandwiches, coffee and dessert. They could also warm these meals while in flight.

The support people got the same box but with a different meal that was referred to in the article as “just as tasty.” Our meal was a dry salami sandwich on white bread, possibly Bunny Bread, a bag of Cheetos and a warm carton of white milk to wash it down. Dessert was an apple or sometimes they would mix it up with an orange. No appetizers for us! After a few of these “just as tasty” box lunches, hotdogs and/or fish was sounding pretty darn good!

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not disrespecting the thankless work that the in-flight kitchen staff did on a day in and day out basis. As a matter of fact one night there was, in the words of Bob Ross, “a happy accident.” When we opened our white boxes they contained not the usual salami on white bread but the flight crew’s lunch complete with roast beef sandwiches. We weren’t able to heat them but we ate them anyway.

Turns out roast beef is just as good cold as it is hot. I am not ashamed to admit that we did get a laugh thinking that maybe just maybe somewhere at 20,000 feet over North Dakota there might be a crew of officers choking down dry salami sandwiches.

This never happened again and we never did find out if this was an accidental switch or if the kitchen staff just took pity on our palates. Either way I am offering a long overdo thank you! If I ever find out the answer I will let you know. Until then, keep your head up and your stick on the ice.