Chow-hall face lifts met with praise from 1st ID troops back from Iraq
February 20, 2005
WüRZBURG, Germany — Before the 1st Infantry Division began its trip home from Iraq, Spc. Sharon Williams avoided eating in military chow halls like the one at its Würzburg headquarters.
Bland, greasy food. Few choices. Grim, dark, institutional eating rooms.
That’s all changed, now that the Army has opened its wallet to spiff up the Leighton Barracks dining hall.
“Before, I wouldn’t eat the food,” Williams, 27, of the Würzburg-based 106th Finance Battalion, said over a chow-hall lunch last week.
“This is the first time I’ve been here. It’s fresher. The soda tastes like soda, not water.”
Had her friends not nagged her to come, she added, “I never would have known.”
Returning troops will see something different at every Big Red One chow hall. Base officials took advantage of the deployment and crammed all their future planned renovations into a single year.
“We accelerated [the building program] to get it done before the division came back,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Harrison, director of public works for the Würzburg-based 98th Area Support Group, which includes all 1st ID bases except Vilseck.
The upgrades include $200,000 to $250,000 projects such as painting, repairs and floor or roof improvements at Kitzingen and Bamberg, as well as full-scale, million-dollar-plus remodeling jobs at posts in Schweinfurt, Katterbach and Würzburg.
The Leighton Barracks face lift is typical. Staff Sgt. Bessie Pulley, the dining-hall manager, said it included a new central heating and air conditioning system that, it is hoped, will stop soldiers dining there from freezing in the winter and broiling in the summer.
Also new are customer-friendly serving areas, a sunroom and latrines accessible from indoors, plus brighter walls decorated with pictures.
“We got away from the military look and tried to make it more homey for the soldiers,” Pulley said.
The changes drew praise from newly returned soldiers — even those accustomed to the lavish spreads at the KBR-contract chow halls in Iraq. And although Pulley says the menu choices haven’t changed since before the deployment, the improved presentation has made many soldiers feel like the food has improved.
“The renovations have been really nice,” said Spc. Jared Hafen, 28, of the 101st Military Intelligence Battalion. “The food’s a lot better. The sandwich bar rocks.”
“It’s more relaxing, more open — like a restaurant,” said Cpl. Justina Spears, 24, of the 106th Finance Battalion, who just returned from Forward Operating Base Danger, the 1st ID headquarters base in Tikrit.
“Plus, we’re not in a tent, and we’re not being mortared.”