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Our modern Spartans

Potato soup, potato salad, potato pancakes …

PHILIP OF Macedonia sent a message of warning to Sparta. He wasn’t playing around, and let them know it:

“You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.”

The Spartans replied to Philip with a short message of their

own:

“If.”

The Spartans weren’t just frugal with their comforts. They were apparently economical with their words, too.

The American general rolling his troops into Poland next month wants his troops to understand that they’re not on a vacation. They’re in the Army now. And the mission is serious. NATO has approved a deterrent force in Poland and the Baltic States in response to growls from the bear in Russia. The United States’ 2nd Cav will take its positions in April. The top U.S. Army commander in Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, wants his people to know he’s not playing around, either.

There will be no Burger King.

There will be no Pizza Huts.

There will be no Subway sandwiches.

For many generations now, generals have said that armies move on their stomachs. And it’s true. But some in the modern military think the idea has gone too far. In American bases around the globe, even in wartorn countries, fast-food joints have popped up deep in the heart of base compounds.

“We went a little too far on some of the luxuries,” Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Muhlenbeck told The Wall Street Journal. “We set a climate that soldiers weren’t in a combat zone anymore. They weren’t in the right mind-set to fight . . . .”

Gen. Hodges seems adamant to put the Army back in Army.

“You are never going to see Burger King” in the new assignment, he told his troops. “Be ready for potatoes three meals a day for six months. The Irish have figured out how to make it interesting. I am sure you can, too.”

Potato soup. Mashed potatoes. Potato salad.

“The standard of living is Spartan,” Gen. Hodges continued. “Spartan plus Wi-Fi.”

Why, of course. Wi-Fi is an essential today in this man’s Army. How else keep up with all the paperwork the U.S. Army is famous for? That, and there are military classes to keep up with. And bills to pay. And, during down time, the latest King Kong movie to watch.

Hashbrowns. French fries. Tater tots.

In Poland, the 2nd Cav and other American troops assigned to it will eat in Polish mess halls. Even the aforementioned sergeant majorwho as a top enlisted man speaks to the brass about the needs of the troops—knows the importance of keeping a military bearing. Sgt. Maj. Muhlenbeck says too many amenities pose real risks. Not just to troops in the field, but to esprit de corps. Troops out on patrol—for cav units, patrols can be days long—shouldn’t have to worry about how good the troops behind them have it.

So . . . Baked potatoes. Au gratin. Potato pancakes.

BUT THERE is a bit of good news for the men and women heading to the Polish frontier: It isn’t the Middle East, where the First General Order in each unit was no alcohol.

The Journal reports that the European forces are generally more loose on that matter. Even Gen. Hodges figures that trying to keep American troops from having a snort now and then would be futile. Especially since French troops have wine in their rations. (That’s not a joke. Wine in their field rations.)

“It will be impossible in this environment,” the experienced and understanding general acknowledged, “and I believe not necessary to have a General Order Number One banning alcohol. I am sure we will have one or two knuckleheads that will do something stupid, but first sergeants know how to deal with this.”

Oh, do they ever. From our experience, there’s nothing a first sergeant can’t handle. If anybody fouls something up, a first sergeant can de-foul it. Then tell you not to un-de-foul it, corporal. Along with some choice words about the corporal’s upbringing.

In the end, there’ll be no Whoppers in Poland. At least not in the United States’ forward-deployed bases. We trust our troops can handle such austerity for a six-month tour, at least until they can be rotated out to more civilized theaters. Until then:

Scalloped potatoes. New potato soup. Potato wedges. And watch out for the bear.

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