|I dream of tiki|
Joined: Jan 12, 2004
From: Pittsburgh, PA
|Posted: 2005-06-24 09:38 am  Permalink|
Missing in action: rice from home
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq — The Army likes to say that wars are won on a supply of beans and bullets.
Hawai'i soldiers add rice to that list — back home sticky-kine rice, not the Minute Rice served up in the base chow halls.
For the more than 600 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 299th Infantry at Camp Victory near Baghdad International Airport, morale, and the local foods they make to stay happy 8,000 miles from home, are at a key juncture.
They need more rice.
"We're at the critical point where our rice will be depleted within a week to two weeks' time throughout the battalion," said Maj. Rudy Ligsay, the "Koa" battalion's executive officer.
"At this point, it's more important than bullets," battalion commander Lt. Col. Kenneth Hara said jokingly.
A recent lu'au thrown by the battalion drew more than 300 soldiers and many guests. In true aloha style, a lot of rice and other local foods were served.
"Somebody was able to acquire a 150-pound pig," said Capt. Albert Ne, 41, from Waimanalo, the battalion's intelligence officer. "Ask me how that happened, I don't really know."
A lot of individual rice supplies were rounded up for the lu'au, about 10 rice cookers were going, and now the pipeline from families is running low.
Many of the Hawai'i soldiers at Camp Victory make their own locally flavored meals in their quarters — even though the camp has two dining facilities practically overflowing with food.
Most quarters, or hooches, have multiple rice cookers. Personal food stashes include bags of fresh garlic, cans of Spam, Vienna sausage, local snacks and dried fish.
Aloha Shoyu sent D Company 12 gallons of shoyu, and teriyaki and barbecue sauces.
Still, rice is at the heart of it all.
"The (dining facility), we've got so much food over there, but not the kind we need," said Sgt. Kun Sigrah. "And the fish they have, ho, we'd rather cook it ourselves."
Sigrah was watching Spc. Widelito Manuel, 46, from Hilo, cook chicken adobo with garlic, ginger, vinegar and fish sauce in a pot over a camp stove.
But there was no rice, because Manuel had run out.
"From Hawai'i, we need some rice," said Manuel, a Headquarters and Headquarters Company soldier.
Some soldiers cook their own rice and bring it into the dining facility in plastic bags. Others bring fresh vegetables from the cafeteria back to their hooches for stir-fry.
Ne recently whipped up some lobster with black bean sauce — using the lobster that's served up along with steak and crab legs every Friday night in the chow hall.
The Hawai'i soldiers found out kiawe grows here, and use it for barbecuing.
"We can make a lot of Filipino foods up here," Ligsay said. "They've got eggplant, squash."
Capt. Paul Agena, 36, the commander of B Company, which draws from the Big Island, O'ahu and Maui, said some soldiers' families have paid $90 for shipping to send relatively heavy bags of rice.
'We've got to brief guys, and say, 'Hey, talk to your families — Do you really want them to pay $90 to have rice sent to you?' And they say, 'Yes.' "
"Spam is no problem, Vienna sausage is no problem," said Agena, a former 'Ewa Elementary school teacher who went full time with the Guard after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"But when the guys get rice, everybody just eats it up."
Alternatively, soldiers' families have found it's possible to send a 5-pound bag of rice in a U.S. Postal Service priority mail box for a flat rate of $7.70.
A rice re-supply also is on its way from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service Post Exchange at nearby Camp Liberty, one of more than a half-dozen U.S. bases surrounding the airport.
Pola Lagafuaina, a Wahiawa resident who has worked at PX stores in Iraq for the past year and a half, ordered bulk rice for the soldiers of the 411th Engineer Battalion out of Hawai'i when they were at Camp Liberty.
She got about 300 5-pound bags for the engineers, "and that wasn't even enough," she said.
"Usually, you'd call a customer (about a special order) and they'd come in a day to pick it up," said Lagafuaina, 28. "The guys from Hawai'i came in like five minutes."
She has ordered a similar amount of Calrose rice for the 2nd of the 299th and hopes it will come in about two weeks.
Lagafuaina, who will be returning in December to work at a new Schofield Barracks PX, did her best to impress on the buyer the need to get rice in for the Hawai'i Guard soldiers.
"I said if you don't get the rice, you're going to have about 600 guys coming to your office looking for rice," she said.
Lagafuaina, who gets her own rice from Japanese and Korean contractors at the base whose companies ship rice in for them, said she wants to do whatever she can for the Hawai'i troops.
"It's just helping the soldiers, that's the main thing," she said.
Ligsay, the 2-299th's executive officer, calls getting rice for his soldiers "an issue that directly affects morale."
"You can take the boys out of Hawai'i, but you can't take Hawai'i out of the boys with our rice," Ligsay said with a smile. "It's our main staple."