New Baghdad mess hall a natural morale booster
August 25, 2003
BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Iraq — The U.S. Army officially opened its newest and largest mess hall in Iraq on Sunday and named it after the late legendary entertainer and GI booster Bob Hope.
Soldiers lined up more than 75 deep to enter the dome-shaped temporary dining facility for a lunch meal that included steak, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy. Before digging in, soldiers with the Army’s 1st Armored Division dedicated a plaque marking the occasion.
A sign outside the main entrance read: “Thanks for the memories, Bob.”
“The guy spent a lot of years entertaining the troops,” Sgt. Edwin Guzman said of Hope as he finished off his lunch. “I can’t think of a better, more deserving person than him.”
The mess hall is one of the Army’s biggest and was built in the center of Baghdad’s airport in about a month. The 502-foot-long facility is spacious enough inside to include an entire football field with room to spare.
Enormous air conditioners help cool the inside when temperatures reach 130 degrees. The facility is designed to feed 8,000 people per meal, said dining facility manager Robert Sarbiewski, who works for the U.S.-based company Kellogg, Brown & Root. The place will serve four meals a day, meaning as many as 32,000 meals will be served each day.
One half of the dome is eating area. The center is the kitchen. The opposite end will be reserved for United Services Organization entertainment tours. Nearly 200 workers cook the food under the guidance of U.S. chefs.
“I might be biased, but the food really is wonderful,” said project manager Odell Howard, who works for the San Antonio, Texas-based Selrico company, a U.S. contractor that helped build the hall.
As soldiers filled their plates on Monday, four big-screen TVs overlooking the dozens of tables flashed pictures of Hope entertaining troops through the years.
The comic first brought his famous one-liners to U.S. soldiers during World War II and eventually became one of the military’s biggest boosters.
Hope died July 27.