FORWARD OPERATING BASE HASSANABAD, Afghanistan — Just getting the ingredients for Golf Company's one-day-early Thanksgiving dinner was a military operation.
First, the Marines consulted their translators. Then the translators persuaded the Afghan border police to go to a market in what may be the most dangerous part of Helmand province.
Buying the $68 worth of chicken and hot peppers and potatoes and rice and flatbread turned out to be the easy part, however. It was the cooking Wednesday night that nearly caused a squad of casualties.
"Hey, you can't put out a grease fire like that!" someone yelled as one of the self-appointed chefs, Cpl. Cody Baird, 21, of Thurmont, Md., yanked a wok-like pan full of flaming grease off the fire, which was fueled by broken-up shipping pallets.
He swung the pan around, his mitt already on fire, and he had to set the pan on the ground before the rest of him went up in flames.
That was, by a conservative count, grease fire number eight, including a crowd-pleaser with flames that reached almost as high as the walls of the camp.
And the actual cooking hadn't begun.
Baird and Lance Cpl. Colin Cummings, 21, of Plattsburgh, N.Y., were still dicing peppers and potatoes and trying to figure out how to adjust the fire to a reasonable temperature so it wouldn't light the oil in the pans.
Finally Navy medic HM3 Robert Oldfield walked up.
Oldfield, 24, of New Matamoros, Ohio, started shaking Old Bay seasoning that someone had sent in a care package onto the chicken quarters and dropping them into the hot oil, which had briefly stopped exploding into flames.
Baird spooned grease into the pot of potatoes, onions and peppers; set it, too, over the flames; and began stirring.
Suddenly things seemed to be under control. Good smells spread around the tiny camp, and more Marines gathered.
Finally, after a couple of hours of firefighting and cooking, the potatoes and chicken were done.
"This is pretty good for eating," one Marine said. "It's like KFC, and we don't get good meals like this often."