The Engineering Edge features a regular series titled "In the Army Now," featuring information pieces addressing frequently asked questions about Army culture and structure. In this month’s "In the Army Now," we look at the Army’s "chow halls."
"Chow halls" are the most common name for the Army’s dining facilities, which are free for Soldiers who are enlisted and live in the barracks. Most chow halls offer four meals per day (breakfast, lunch, supper and a "midnight meal"). There are even some chow halls that are open 24 hours a day.
Not too many years ago, meals consisted of one or two entrees, plus veggies and one or two dessert items. Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, cereal, bacon and toast. There were few choices, very little in the way of healthy choices and no junk food. Those days are long-gone.
Most dining facilities now give the choice of a full meal with two or more entrees or any fast-food (burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, fries, chicken) that a Soldier might want. For the health conscious, there is normally a "healthy-heart" menu as well as a salad bar. Desserts are usually a choice of fruits, several styles and flavors of cakes, ice cream, Jell-O®, puddings, pies and more. For breakfast, one can choose anything between a small fruit cup to a full-fledged, made-to-order omelet with all of the side dishes. Take out cartons are freely available in many chow halls, and some dining facilities even have drive-through windows.
Other than a few exceptions (some military training centers, boot camp, while embarked on a vessel, while deployed, etc.), "Kitchen Patrol Duty" is a thing of the past. Most military dining facilities are now contract operations (although there are still plenty of military cooks around).
One particularly interesting fact is that the military dining system is the number-one employer of disabled people in the United States.