It is ironic that in order to defend freedom, a soldier must give up much of his own freedom. Troops understand this cognitively, but it still has a big emotional impact. Young military personnel adjusting to military life soon realize that they have very little control over their lives, schedules, and surroundings. The result is a lot of bitching and complaining. This feature transcends generations, but the content changes. When older veterans hear the younger generation complaining about their current situation, it’s almost incomprehensible.
Morale is at rock bottom, WiFi in our barracks sucks. Son of my time, morale was ammunition replenishment!
Today’s troops have to put up with a lot of nonsense that the ancients didn’t have to put up with, but the previous generation certainly had more austere environments. They lived in open team bays with no privacy. Entire units had to share a few public telephones. It was rare for a young troop to own a vehicle, making it difficult to restock essentials such as toiletries and cleaning supplies. Even when the living situation evolved into barrack rooms, it often included two or three roommates and certainly no kitchenette. The young troops are always hungry. These are young, active dining rooms that closed too early. Before microwaves, air fryers, and today’s plethora of food delivery options, the ancients found a way. Below are five old-school hacks for barracks life.
1. grilled cheese sandwich on an iron
Yes, it’s true. Before the military got into digital camouflage, they were required to show up for duty in crisp, starched camouflage utilities. A young Marine or soldier might not own a television, but he sure does own an iron. Showing up for training in a wrinkled uniform was unthinkable. It just wasn’t tolerated. In those days, you could only get a cheap loaf of white bread and a packet of American cheese for less than a dollar. The instructions were simple: plug in the iron, flip it over, and place the (not real) cheese between two slices of bread. Place the trailer park delicacy on the iron until brown and flip it over. Enjoy. You could easily get a dozen sandwiches via this method. Entrepreneurs among the ranks then charged their drunk and hungry buddies a dollar a sandwich. Not a bad return on investment.
2. Hot dogs in a coffee maker
It was only moderately effective and gave the coffee a little pink water taste, but it worked. When you’re spending a week in the field eating nothing but MREs, the last thing you want to do on the weekend is purposely open a packet of king chicken in the squad bay. Although barracks life forbids hot plates or any other such item, military culture almost always demands a coffee maker. A few dollars more than grilled cheese would net you a bag of hot dogs and buns. Preparing food was as simple as removing the coffee filter and running water through the pot. The frankfurters with questionable ingredients were placed inside the carafe. Once the water has percolated through the pot, allow it to sit for a few minutes, allowing the heat to be absorbed by the separate pork product then enjoy. Paired with a bottle of mustard slipped into the dining room and it wasn’t too bad. Throw an extra spoon or two of grounds into the next pot of coffee and you almost mask the taste. The hot water in the coffee maker also made countless bowls of instant ramen noodles. No real hack there, just common sense, but worth mentioning.
3. Coffee filters as toilet paper
You can’t keep enough toilet paper in the barracks, and you can’t rely on the military to supply you anyway. When they provide it, it’s finer than a moth’s wings and rougher than a husk of corn. The most favorable barracks situation you could hope for is a two-man room that shares a bathroom with another two-man room. The rules you try to put in place never last. At least one of the four roommates will be a bastard. Your Spartan lifestyle will leave you needy for many things, but you’ll always have shoe polish and coffee. Boot polish has only one purpose. The coffee mess, however, includes coffee filters. Coffee filters are sold in packs of 100 and 500. Your PX will have some in stock even when the shelves are empty of toilet paper. Necessity is the mother of invention and many barrack rats have used coffee filters instead of toilet paper. Just rinse often. If you get the dresser jammed, it will take facility maintenance two months to fix it. The fight is real.
4. Shampoo as laundry detergent
believe it or not body wash is a fairly recent development, for decades there was only soap and shampoo. Service members endured countless inspections and kept their seabags/duffle bags packed while their units remained on standby for emergency deployment. The equipment listed inevitably included “30 days of hygiene supplies”. Many institutionalized leaders of yesteryear interpreted this to mean that you had to have soap and shampoo. Common sense is not a common virtue. It doesn’t matter if you wear a high and tight with a quarter-inch oval-shaped patch of hair on her head. The list says…Finally, between you and your roommates, you have several bottles of shampoo. Either you neglect restocking, can’t access the PX when it’s open, or the dirty roommate has used all your laundry detergent. There are only a limited number of times you can rinse your PT gear in the shower before it needs a wash no kidding. Well, the shampoo is a little soapy and definitely smells good, so it can’t hurt. Right? Somehow. Give it an extra rinse or two and that will do the trick, but replacing shampoo with laundry detergent isn’t a permanent fix.
5. toothpaste wall repair
True story. While deployed to Okinawa, Japan in the 90s, a bug was crawling up my bedroom wall, almost as big as my Guns N Roses tape. Being the aggressive NCO that I was, I trampled the intruder with my jungle boots. Unfortunately, my foot made a size 9 hole in the wall. I feared very little in life other than the deadly habu viper and my Gunny Company. Gunny would come in for a room inspection in a few days. Fortunately, I had lived in the barracks for a few years and had learned a few tricks of the trade. I balled up a copy of stars and stripes and piled it in the hole. Then I covered the hole with smooth strips of tape. Finally, I took some baking soda toothpaste and smoothed the patch with my ID, leaving an appearance of spackle. When Gunny’s sharp eye saw the repair job and having no recollection of a work order request, he asked what happened. I replied elusively and confidently “I’m a Gunny NCO, there was a problem and I took care of it.” Alumni love this kind of attitude from the next generation. I passed the check.
I’m sure there are modern barracks (or dormitory) hacks of today’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coasters, Marines… and Guardians! Old salts probably won’t include most of them. They do, however, understand long hours, bad food, stubborn leaders, and being away from home. The 5 old school barracks hacks listed above are shared in the spirit of communicating, “I hear you little brother” while encouraging today’s fighter to improvise, adapt and overcome. .