Assignment Afghanistan: Texas Soldiers' Comforts of Home Far From It

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BAGRAM, AFGHANISTAN News 3's Steve Fullhart and Rachel Cox from KWTX News 10 in Waco are on assignment covering Texans serving in Afghanistan.

A report out this week from the Army shows morale is up among U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, this as troop numbers are getting smaller and the Afghan army is taking on more tasks.

Twenty percent of soldiers surveyed said they had high or very high morale. That's up five percent from two years ago and four percent from four years ago.

As one might imagine for a big group from Fort Hood that's been in a war zone a while and is just a few weeks from going home, their morale seems pretty high, but one thing that shows at Bagram Air Field is that even though soldiers are in some rough territory, there are still some comforts of home.

Take the Super Bowl, for example. It was cause for a a super cake decorated like a football field, all for soldiers at the Grady Dining Facility. When you think of a war zone, this probably isn't what you'd imagine the food would be.

Variety is the spice of life in this cafeteria. Locals serve the wide range of traditional American food and dishes from other corners of the world, and they serve it big. The price tag is non-existent, and when you're done, your appetite generally doesn't exist either.

"Today, we have some barbecue ribs, collared greens, macaroni and cheese, and then a mango salad," said 1LT Jareen Thompson, a Fort Hood soldier. "I've got to make sure I get my veggies in.

"This isn't what I was expecting at all," he added of the options. "It's a lot better than the MREs that we had to eat, but just having a hot meal is awesome."

MREs, or meals ready to eat, are the vacuum-packed foods sent out with soldiers on their missions. While they've improved by leaps and bounds over the years, they likely don't match what the cafeteria has to offer.

If the cafeteria doesn't cut it one day, you've got fast food far from home. A stroll around Grady will net you Pizza Hut and Subway as options, along with others.

Needing more than food for comfort? The USO has been doing its part for decades, and at Bagram, you'll find cushy chairs, movie monitors and vivid video games.

"It lets us escape from reality right here, reminds us of back home," said soldier Ezekiah Jackson.

"Just being able to have them play Playstation games, just make anything feel comfortable, make it feel like home, that's the easiest thing to do ever," said Wilfred Schouten, who helps run the Bagram USO. Schouten says he had a job back stateside with the organization, but wanted to come to Afghanistan to get a better perspective on what service members experience and need.

But sometimes, it's something simple that brings folks together and takes you away from the war front. Outside some of the dorms called Avenger, Fort Hood soldiers sit around a fire pit, talking, some smoking cigarettes or cigars.

Of course, that's here at Bagram. If you go out to a forward operating base which is out in the field, you've got fewer options, and might have to survive on MREs.

In the Army morale report, 25 percent of soldiers surveyed said they had high or very high concerns about the amount of sleep they were getting here. Just in off-hand conversations with soldiers at Bagram, soldiers tell us it's just part of the job, and you learn to deal with not getting much shut-eye.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.