A Shout Out to Olive Garden and Starbucks for Veterans Day Offers

Veterans Day Free Meal Menu at Olive Garden

Every year that I’ve been in the United States on Veterans Day I’ve had the opportunity to get freebies from various companies when dining out. For example, Olive Garden offered a free entree and Starbucks offered a free tall (small) plain coffee for veterans. I took advantage of both. There are other sites that have lists of what restaurants offered this year, though. That’s not really the point of this post.

I was just thinking about how great it is that as a veteran these companies are willing to recognize my military service by giving me something for free. Granted, people who serve in the military are essentially putting themselves at risk to preserve the U.S. way of life, including its economy, in theory, and are protecting these businesses as a result, but that doesn’t obligate them to offer discounts or free meals.

I suppose I’m a pessimist. You almost have to draw blood to get wages raised to what constitutes a living wage. Companies cut corners by putting yoga mat material in their so-called meat patties to increase profits. So, to see a company just putting stuff out there for veterans for free still surprises me every year.

This post is basically just a big thank you to those companies and especially to Olive Garden and Starbucks since I’ve gone to those establishments nearly every year on Veterans Day. Thanks!

This is my favorite AC-130 Spectre Gunship video

I spent 8 years in the Army. If I’d known better, I’d have joined the Air Force, like my dad did. And if I had joined the Air Force, being on an AC-130 gunship crew wouldn’t have been a bad gig. I wanted to do something meaningful, but I wound up spending most of my time loading and unloading trucks with a forklift or counting inventory. It wasn’t exactly fulfilling.

I was lured into the job by the promise that I would be working with computers. I enlisted back in 1998. Computers were still a new and amazing thing in my life, and probably most people’s lives, if they could even afford a computer and internet service. Windows 95 and America Online chat rooms were still sources of wonder and amazement.

Once I was enlisted and working in that field, I was unable to negotiate to move into a more interesting job when it came time for my reenlistment. Once you’re in an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), you’re pretty much stuck, unless you want to move into a job with a low retention rate, like basic infantry. I’d like to think that if I had the Internet as it is today as a resource, with blogs and extensive forums, I would have made better choices.

These videos are pretty graphic. Please keep that in mind before watching.

The following video (when autoplay is enabled) is pretty interesting too:

Scarlett Johansson’s Autograph from Kuwait in 2008

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When I was looking through some old folders trying to sort and put away documents, I found this autographed poster that I had forgotten about. I didn’t forget about meeting Scarlett Johansson, but I did forget that I have her autograph as well.

She was in Kuwait on a troop morale type of tour, visiting the US military bases that were (are?) set up in the deserts of Kuwait. I suppose it goes without saying that a lot of people wanted to meet her. The line was tremendously long, and we only had a minute or two per group of people to get autographs and chat. I got the feeling she was a little disconcerted by the pace of the event. That’s the military for you though.

Greasy Chicken Wings

Fried Wings, Potato Wedges and a Biscuit at the Bronx VA Hospital

A few days ago I had to go to the Veteran’s Administration hospital in the Bronx for my annual physical. I was quite a few months late going this year. Last Semester was just too overwhelming for me to find time to get anything done. I still have lots of errands I need to take care of that I should have done during those four months as well as other things I want to get done before Spring starts.

I somehow don’t think I’m going to get through all of the reading I’d like to do before the semester starts, but I am enjoying having a lot more quality time with my wife. We’re catching up on a lot of television shows together. We sort of stopped loving Breaking Bad because it was dragging too much with the car wash nonsense and Skylar being so annoying (not to mention Walt was turning into sort of a wuss) and now we’re getting hooked on Fringe. Thanks Netflix! House of Cards was good too. I guess we’ll get back to Breaking Bad eventually.

I’m also trying to get my fitness level back up. I’m taking it slow though. I spent four months basically doing nothing physically strenuous. I have a Fitbit Force to help me stay motivated. It’s amazing how hard it is to cheat yourself when you can see the numbers in front of you plain as day, in terms of calories consumed versus calories burned.

Fried Wings, Potato Wedges and a Biscuit at the Bronx VA Hospital
Fried Wings, Potato Wedges and a Biscuit at the Bronx VA Hospital

So, coming back around to what I meant to write about in this post, which has to do with calories, I was surprised by just how disgustingly greasy the fried chicken at the VA hospital cafeteria was. When I went for my physical the doctor surprised me by telling me I should have blood work done. He surprised me more by having the nurse draw what seemed like almost a pint out of my arm. I didn’t have breakfast, so I went straight to the cafeteria afterwards to eat a decent meal to make sure I didn’t collapse on the way home.

There were plenty of choices but somehow the need to go a little overboard to replace all the blood I lost led me to the fried chicken buffet. It was a bad move. I put three fried wings on my plate but I could only stomach one before my stomach started to turn. At first I thought it was the change in diet I’d made away from greasy foods to more steamed and boiled dishes, but I’ve had fried chicken from other places, like Popeye’s, that didn’t leave such a bad taste in my mouth. We ate a plate of amazing soy garlic wings at Boka Bon Chon yesterday and it was fine, but hours after I left the hospital I could still taste heavy oil in my mouth. It must just be the way that chicken was prepared.

Thinking about it, I wonder if the same preparation method was used at the cafeterias I ate at when I was on active duty in the Army. Procedures are pretty standard in the military or military related facilities and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a field manual or technical manual related to the frying of chicken and operation of deep fryers. I used to really enjoy that chicken. Now I can’t stand it.

How much did the Army really teach me about physical fitness? I’m beginning to feel like I didn’t learn anything other than how to follow a physical exercise routine in the morning. I wasn’t taught how to evaluate food choices or supplement choices and I wasn’t given any understanding of how sleep, diet, and overall physical activity would affect my health. Perhaps I should have taken the initiative and looked that up myself, but as a young soldier who was trained to just listen and do as instructed, it never occurred to me to think that far outside the box, especially when sleep deprivation and ordering pizza are such big parts of military culture. So, I would exercise in the morning, eat fried chicken for lunch, maybe pizza for dinner, and then I would wonder why I never really saw any physical improvement.

If I recall correctly, the units I was in had people who were trained to be masters of physical fitness. They went to some sort of course to learn about physical fitness. What was the point of that? Were they not trained properly? Did the command structure ignore their recommendations? Or was it just a mark on a check-list to satisfy civilian committees who evaluated the military’s commitment to the health and well-being of service members that was never seriously implemented?

I learned a lot from my time in the military, but the more I learn outside of the military, the more I realize I was left in the dark in areas that were key to being a successful soldier. But, I suppose one can’t expect the military structure, composed mostly of high school graduates, to impart the understanding that comes with a college education and life experience to new recruits. Officers could do something about that, being college graduates, but there aren’t enough officers and that isn’t really their job.

Veteran’s Day Dinner 2013

PVT Elma and Me July 30 1999 Fort Lee VA, AIT
“PVT Elma + Me. July 30, 99 Fort Lee, VA (AIT)”

Ever since I enlisted in the Army and businesses started offering Veterans Day promotions, I’ve tried to make it to a participating business each year. I’m not one to pass up free food, especially when it’s from a place like Olive Garden. I’m just being practical. Besides, I’m a veteran, and in a way, I already paid for it. That’s what the day is about, and I’m glad businesses have decided to give back to the veteran community one day a year in a show of appreciation for the efforts and loss that some people went through, or are still going through, for those on active duty.

The first time I remember going to a restaurant for a free meal on Veterans Day was when I was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. I think I went to a Golden Corral or a similar all-you-can-eat buffet-style restaurant with a group of guys from my unit.  This year, like last year, my wife and I went to the Olive Garden in Times Square. In addition to the free entree for veterans, the restaurant was offering 10% off for family members. I’m not sure if that was 10% off the rest of the bill, or just the other entree(s). I forgot to check and tossed the receipt already, but it doesn’t really matter to me. A discount is a discount.

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The entree options for veterans were limited, but they offered a nice variety of choices. I went with the cheese ravioli. We also got the stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer and my wife ordered the capellini pomodoro, which she said tasted delicious.  It looked delicious. I also ordered a new drink they have, a blood orange blackberry iced tea. That tasted outstanding.

Blood Orange Blackberry Iced Tea
Blood Orange Blackberry Iced Tea
Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce
Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce
Capellini Pomodoro
Capellini Pomodoro

These guys were outside the Olive Garden. I thought it was pretty cool, so I want to share the photo:

Mounted NYPD
Mounted NYPD

We finished the evening off at Starbucks, which was offering a free tall brewed coffee to veterans and family members.

The evening wasn’t completely free, but the discounts at Olive Garden made our evening out more affordable and gave my wife and I an opportunity to be thankful for my coming home in one piece, to remember those who didn’t, and gave us another reason to just spend time together out of the house. We’re looking forward to doing it again next year.

Questionable Dental and Optometry Experiences in the US Army

One of the great things about being in the Army (or any branch of service) is that you get free medical and free dental care.  Most people are probably at least partially aware of that, since in all the old movies you see guys running around with those thick Army glasses.  We used to call those BCGs: Birth Control Glasses, because when you were wearing them you definitely weren’t getting laid.  Thankfully, quite a few years ago now, the Army started issuing thinner, slightly more attractive looking frames that you could pass off as commercial.  I had a pair of those, and I was really happy about them, because it meant I didn’t have to spend my own cash to go to a ‘real’ optometrist to get glasses.  I say ‘real’, because a civilian optometrist is likely to perform better, since they have to work for repeat business.  Two years ago, when I got out of the Army, I had my eyes checked by a civilian optometrist and found out that the prescription I’d been given by a Navy optometrist on Camp Arifjan in Kuwait was wrong, and I’d been wearing the wrong prescription for a year.  How about that for quality service?

So, like I said, you sacrifice something when you wind up with free service, in the military.  That carried over to the dental care as well.  In 2002, I was stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia, and I noticed some discomfort when I bit down.  It felt like I was biting my own gums in the back.  I’m sure some of you already know where this is going.  I kept putting it off, but then I finally went to the dental facility as a walk-in on a Friday morning.  I was trying to play the system.  I figured I could go there in the morning, instead of PT (Physical Training at 6:15 AM), and then get set up for an appointment that would let me miss some work the following week.  Ya, I wasn’t exactly a motivated soldier at Fort Stewart, but I’ll write more about that another time.  So, I showed up, and after waiting a few hours, doing my best to not fall asleep, which would have caused me to get in some trouble, since even when you’re at dental you’re considered ‘on-duty’, I was finally called in to see a dentist.  It went a little something like this:

“What seems to be the trouble?”

“Well, I’m having some trouble with my gums when I bite down.  It feels like I’m biting them in the back.”

The dentist then took a look around in my mouth and told me, “Well, it looks like your wisdom teeth have partially come in and they’re preventing you from closing your mouth and chewing properly.  You’ll have to have them removed.”

“Oh.”  I was pretty sure that’s what the problem was, but was still hopeful for some other cause that would avoid me having to have my teeth yanked out of my head.  “So, when can I get an appointment to come back in here and have them removed?”

“Oh no.  There’s no need for you to miss more time at work over this.  We’ll just go ahead and remove them now.  ALL of them.”

So much for my weekend.

After having a bunch of needles rammed into my mouth and a call to my supervisor to let him know I was going to need a ride home afterwards, the dentist got settled in and started yanking my teeth out.  It wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it was going to be, until he got to work on the bottom right wisdom tooth.  The pain killer hadn’t been distributed quite right, and while one side of my face felt like wood, I could still feel some stuff going on there, enough for it to be kind of painful.  I tried to mumble through a mouth full of cotton, plastic and metal tools that he should stop because I could still feel it but he wasn’t listening and kept yanking.

Perhaps he was having a bad morning, or was just a vindictive ass, because at that point he said, “I’m having some trouble with this one.  It’s probably going to shatter.  Then we’ll have to cut the rest of it out.  That’s going to take a while and be a lot more complicated.”

The nurse, bless her soul, told him, “Shhh!  You shouldn’t say that!  He can hear you!”

Then he gave one last pull with the pliers and the tooth came out.

My weekend was pretty shot after that.  I don’t remember all of it, but I spent a lot of time in bed, and I must have swallowed a lot of blood from the holes in my gums, because I woke up twice to throw up blood.  It made me wonder just how good a job the guy really did.  Thankfully, I had some Percocet pills to help with the pain.

The following Monday I didn’t have to do PT.  I didn’t have to do PT for a couple of days actually, because I was recovering and I was taking the Percocet.  I remember my supervisor wanted me to do an inspection on a 5 ton tractor trailer that morning, and I had to remind him that I wasn’t supposed to be around any heavy machinery, let alone operating a tractor trailer or climbing up into an engine compartment.  Percocet is some pretty powerful stuff.  There was a girl that was also taking the same pills.  I forget what for.  We spent that morning sitting in the office, taking phone calls and laughing about stuff that wasn’t really funny, but seemed hilarious since we were doped up.

Islanders And Pride

Recently I was reading an article on Rubber Slippers in Italy that reminded me of some fun times I had in the Army regarding people from island nations.

Ribbing, teasing or joking is not uncommon in the Army.  In some respects, being in the Army was like being in an extension of high school, except with ranks, and not always in a good way.

Still, there were good times (at least from our perspective).

There was a guy that worked in my office, when I first got to my unit at my last duty station, that was from Micronesia.  Well, with “Micro” in the name of his country, and the fact that the islands looked so small on the map, it led to him getting messed with a LOT.  Not to mention his first name is Hitler.  That was a double fail.

The jokes typically leaned towards making fun of how small the islands are.  I can’t remember the joke exactly, but we asked how the recruiters managed to find his village up in the jungle, and whether or not he wore leaves or had clothes.  We asked him if he had ever heard of  telephone before leaving his island.

Ya, we really got going on him.  Usually it would be a group of us in the office and he would be trying to work and we would start talking about Micronesia.  As soon as he heard the name of his island he would turn and look at us and start to get pissed off.

We didn’t hate the guy.  It’s just that when the days were long and we were bored out of our minds, we wanted some entertainment, and this guy always provided it without fail.

Oh, and because the guy’s first name was Hitler, when he would ask one of us to do something or to help him out, we would give the old fashioned German salute and march off, with him yelling and screaming.

Ya, the guy always flipped out.  Typically our taunting would end with him throwing books and manuals at us and all of us running out into the maintenance bays to laugh and talk about how mad he got.

Months later, I would find myself in another unit with a guy from Guam.  He too had that overblown sense of pride, and somehow it drew us to tease him about it.

Some of my favorites:

WalMart in Guam:

Guy 1: So, [Guam Guy], is there a Walmart on Guam?

Me 2 (butting in): Oh come on.  You know there’s no WalMart on Guam!  There isn’t even enough room for a WalMart parking lot there!

Guam guy: [insert long string of expletives and threats of violence here]

Driving Around Guam:

Guam Guy: Ya, man. I miss my car. I used to go on long drives around the island just to chill and listen to music.

Me: 15 minutes isn’t a long drive.

Guam Guy: What you mean man?

Me: You said a long drive. We all know you can’t take a long drive around Guam. I mean, come on.  It takes longer to take a good shit than it does for a person to drive around Guam.

Guam Guy: You know what? Fuck you man.

Showering in Guam:

When we wound up in Kuwait, we were on a camp that (thank God) had showering facilities.

Guam Guy was the fastest man in the camp with taking a shower, or so it seemed.

We would all be sitting on our bunks in the morning, after doing physical training, and he would walk past with his towel, wearing slippers and say he was heading for the shower.  We would stretch and talk for about five minutes or so and then grab our stuff and start walking to the showers.

The showers were located about a quarter of a kilometer away (I think.  I’m not too good with kilometers yet) and would take about three or four minutes to walk to, at a leisurely pace.

So, we would come out of the building we lived in and start walking up the dirt path to the showers and, about halfway down, we would see Guam Guy walking briskly back toward the building.

The first few times it happened I just sort of looked at my watch and thought, ‘WTF?’  But… when he kept doing it we started talking about.

Finally, one day I stopped him as we were heading to the showers and he was heading back.

Me: So, uh, you’re done showering already?

Guam Guy: Ya.

Me: Do you… uhhh… use soap?  It’s ok to use soap you know.

Guam Guy: What the fuck are you talking about man?

Me: Dude, you just left the building like 7 minutes ago.  I know Guam is small and all, and there are only like 3 showers for the whole island, but here you can take your time and use soap.  You can do more than let the water tickle your ass and jump out.

Guam Guy: [Insert long string of expletives and threats of violence here]

Everyone Else: [Insert laughing here]

I don’t know what it is about islanders, compared to people from the mainland US, but they do seem to be more sensitive about ribbing when it comes to their islands.  Is it common I wonder?  Or maybe soldiers are just less sensitive about jokes about where they’re from because after a while, and after so many duty stations, you start to disassociate yourself with your hometown?  That might be even more true of soldiers who are the sons or daughters of military personnel, who have never lived somewhere more than five years or so at a time.

By the way, don’t get the wrong idea.  Messing with each other like this is common in the Army, and I wasn’t free and clear of being a victim of it either.  Everyone has to take their turn being the target I guess.  Plus, we were all close.  If something happened and either of these islanders had a problem, we’d definitely have backed them up.

(At least it’s better than in the Navy, where you have to take your turn in the barrel).