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Mason Rawson, 12, son of Navy Cmdr. Lisa Rawson and Greg Rawson, receives a plate of Christmas chow from Frank Valdes, a cook at the Black Stallion Inn at Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany.
Mason Rawson, 12, son of Navy Cmdr. Lisa Rawson and Greg Rawson, receives a plate of Christmas chow from Frank Valdes, a cook at the Black Stallion Inn at Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

STUTTGART, Germany - What would you do for Christmas if the chow hall wasn’t open?

“I’d probably be eating Ramen noodles,” said Pfc. Sara Carter.

“I’m pretty happy they’re open,” said Spc. Joseph Murray. “Otherwise, I’d be sitting in my room.”

For those with nowhere else to go, the Black Stallion Inn was open on Tuesday, serving up a small feast at Patch Barracks. About 90 customers came to eat, compared with the normal lunch crowd of 400.

The kitchen crew said they were pleased to come in to work, for the diners as well as for each other.

“I didn’t want to leave my buddies in here hanging,” said Ricky Johnson, a cook. “We’re a little light today.”

The chow hall was properly festooned with sparkly bulbs and garlands and Christmas-themed placemats.

Roast beef, shrimp and rainbow trout were among the entrees. The price: $6.05.

Steve Jordan, who rang up diners as they filed in, said he didn’t know where the “.05” came from.

“If somebody’s a nickel short, we won’t kick them out,” he said.

Jordan, who like many of the kitchen crew is ex-military, greeted diners with a friendly smile. He was motivated by the spirit of the day.

“We’re here for the single soldiers who are away from home and have nobody here,” Jordan said. “We want to make him feel he has a place to go and be welcomed.

“If they don’t get it anywhere else, they’ll get a smile and a ‘season’s greetings’ here.”

Carter, a 19-year-old from Lee County, Fla., said she had never seen snow before and had hoped for her first white Christmas. Maybe next year; Stuttgart offered only frost on this day.

Sgt. Wandell Gordon’s wife was back in the U.S., but he took his loneliness with perspective.

“It would be kind of selfish to complain when soldiers in Iraq are without their wives and kids,” Gordon said.

The deputy commander of U.S. European Command, Vice Adm. Richard K. Gallagher, was behind the counter loading up plates.

“He called over a couple weeks ago and asked if we needed some help,” said Alfonso Moore, the dining facility manager. “Personally, I think when soldiers see such a high-ranking person serving food on Christmas or Thanksgiving, that’s good stuff.”

Young soldiers weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the chow hall.

Greg Rawson and his four children came from Memphis, Tenn., to visit his wife and their mom, Cmdr. Lisa Rawson, who was pulling a six-month tour. Greg Rawson said the fancy spread reminded him of being at home.

It appeared, though, that they didn’t miss the shopping, cooking and cleaning.

“That,” Rawson said, “would be too much like being at home.”

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