I've had to psych myself up for this one, knowing that there's going to be a lot to say.
This is a duty that your MTI will assign to one lucky trainee. This trainee needs to have some serious cojones and will need to demonstrate some great military bearing from the get-go. If you're transparent with your emotions, you don't need to be chow running. Why? Because the Chow Runner is the trainee who approaches the Snake Pit - alone - addresses the MTIs and announces the flight as being ready to eat. The schpiel goes something like this:
Sir/Ma'am, trainee Carpenter reports as ordered. [wait to be addressed]
Sir, flight 494 is prepared to enter the dining facility from the east side [or west side].
At that point, the MTI at the snake pit will tell you something, usually "Sit, Eat, and Get Out," although if they're feeling fiesty, they may tell you something completely off the wall, like "Sit 'em on down!" in a weird country accent. You'll repeat back what they said - verbatim - and then "Yes sir, thank you sir." At that point, you'll go outside to get your flight.
If there is a line in the chow hall, and not enough space, you'll be directed to wait against the wall. You'll study your BMTSG while you wait for them to call you forward again, and then they'll give you the "Sit, Eat, and Get Out" directive and you'll go through the process described above.
When you come out of the chow hall, you'll stand on the wall if there are other Chow Runners waiting to call in their flight. When it's your turn, you'll stand directly in front of the dining facility at attention and in your loudest voice say:
prepare to enter the dining facility from the east side.
All key personnel fall out, fall in,
followed by the first element.
As a flight, you will all come to attention and respond (loudly), "AIM HIGH! FLY! FIGHT! WIN!" Eventually as you progress in your weeks of training, you may opt (as a flight) to create your own chant to distinguish yourselves as a flight. Ours went something like:
[Chow Runner] Flight 494, we are:
[Flight] Motivated! Dedicated!
You check us out, you, you check us out!
We get the job done,
make the other flights pout! HUA!
At this point the DC, the water monitors, and any other trainees designated as needing to fall out early (sometimes the laundry crew) will walk to the front of first element and fall into a straight line. The Chow Runner will be the first to enter the dining facility, as they have to report for the next part of their duty. The first element leader will call the element to attention and march them into the dining facility. The last person in that element will stand outside of the door and peek inside to determine when there's room for the next element to enter. They will then call out, "Followed by the second element" and the process continues until everyone enters.
Once inside, the Chow Runner will position themselves in line with the row of tables, stand with their left arm behind their back, and the right arm bent in front of their waist. They will then direct trainees, saying, "front ma'am/sir," "back ma'am/sir," and alternating between the two. If the MTI has given them anything special in terms of instructions, they'll say that as well, such as "Front ma'am/sir. Sit, eat, and get out." The chow runner's job is done when the next chow runner steps in to direct their flight. Like the water monitors (described below), the chow runner is one of the last people to eat.
There are three water monitors designated in your flight. These trainees always fall out first with key personnel, but they are the last people to eat, always. They'll enter the dining facility and walk into the back, along with the employees and the trainees on KP. They'll done gloves and their hats, and then proceed to fill glasses with water and Gatorade and set it out for everyone coming down the line. After they've completed their work, they'll go get their own food. Before breaking ranks (as there will be another flight coming in), they'll need to request to do so from the DC doing inspections at that point.
Sir/Ma'am, trainee Carpenter reports as ordered.
Sir/ma'am, permission to break ranks? Reason?
Water monitor plus two. [Total of three water monitors.] Proceed.
Entering the Chow Hall
After you've come into the chow hall, you'll line up in three columns and sign in (squadron, flight, name) at the desk. The grandmotherly woman working the desk was probably the nicest, most friendly person we regularly encountered at BMT. She was a breath of fresh air. When you are done signing in, you'll stand at attention. When the entire row is done signing in, the trainee against the wall will command, "trainees post left [or right, depending on which direction is "out]." You'll execute a facing movement and proceed to stand in line, heel to toe with the person in front of you. As described before, you'll be inspected by your DC as you march - not walk - in. You'll do facing movements and take one step at a time in line, not stepping beyond a certain line, as to leave room for KP and employees walking in and out of the back. The KP trainees will say, "DETAIL, MAKE A HOLE!" as they walk by. You always have to remember your military bearing while in the chow hall, as the MTIs at the Snake Pit can see you walk in, not to mention you'll have other MTIs walking in and out of the same door that you just did.
Stepping onto the Line
When it's your turn to step forward, you'll apply hand sanitizer and find yourself facing a full-length mirror. Most like your EL will be standing there to inspect you. You'll execute a practice salute, then about face and begin side-stepping down the line. You'll grab a tray and your utensils, always staring straight ahead. Don't you dare talk to the trainees next to you, lest you not see the MTI making his way down the line toward you in the other direction. If a trainee of the opposite sex is in front of you, you'll need to stay at least a full arms length away from them, or an MTI will make you aware of your discretion. You'll let the employees know what you'd like and load your tray, moving without hesitancy. When you get to the beverages, you are required to take two drinks of your choice. When I first arrived, you had to take a milk and two Gatorades. This has since changed to any two beverages, but the regulation seems to fluctuate.
You will not do any facing movements while carrying a tray, and you'll walk out and around (not stepping within an area marked by a red line), walking towards your Chow Runner, who'll direct you to your table. You'll go all the way down to the first available chair. It does not matter if you end up at a mixed gender table. You'll put your tray down, take off your web canteen belt, and tuck it underneath your chair. You'll come to attention for approximately three seconds, then sit down and proceed to eat. You do not need to finish all of your food (you won't have time), but you will need to turn your glasses upside down when you finish your beverages. Some trainees who'd had too much to drink, chose to "accidentally" knock over their glass when they were almost finished, so it'd spill on the tray. Under no circumstances should you talk to anyone else at your table.
The Need for Speed
You're going to be rushed at meal time, that's a given. It's going to be ridiculously fast in the first few weeks of training, so get used to it. You may feel that you're not even getting a chance to eat at all. Trust me, it gets better. As you progress in the weeks of training, you'll have a bit more time. During the first week, we had a number of trainees that threw up after meals. If you're going to spew, run for the bushes/grass. Don't throw up on the concrete pad - you'll get...wait for it...yelled at. Bet you didn't see that coming. ;)
Leaving the Dining Facility
Leaving the dining facility can be a bit precarious. Leaving signifies that the trainees in front of you should be done, as well as any trainees still at your table. If your table leaves before any earlier tables, it's referred to as "table f*cking," as they will essentially be required to leave immediately whether they were done eating or not. They will not be pleased with you. If anyone else at your table isn't done, they'll also have to finish up right then and there. If neither of these parties leaves, they'll surely get blasted by the MTIs. Don't be that trainee, you'll hear about it when you get back to the dorm. Your best bet is to leave some food to pick at or a half inch of beverage left, that way you can time your finish with the rest of the trainees at your table. You'll give each other "looks" when it's time to go. Be cautious that you don't all stand up together in one fluid motion, or you'll get yelled at for that too, but time it so you're all done at roughly the same time. You'll carry your tray to the window for dish washing, placing it on the stack and setting your silverware into the tray.
You'll walk straight out of the dining facility from there. If there's someone coming your way (MTI or a trainee with a tub), you'll stand with your back toward the wall and stare straight ahead until they pass by. After they pass, you'll continue on your way, executing a facing movement to head toward the door. Walk confidently and be sure to place your hat on your head prior to leaving. If you hesitate you run the risk of being called out by the MTIs at the Snake Pit, who will call you back.
The Snake Pit
The Snake Pit is a long rectangular table that faces the food line. Its position enables the MTIs sitting there to see trainees coming in from outside, the trainees coming down the line, and all of the trainees eating. There is always one MTI who is working at the table, directing flights into the chow hall. Other MTIs may be there, socializing with each other or eating. They will talk, laugh, and joke loudly, which is very unnerving. They will start to yell at trainees that are eating too slowly. They may, at any time, make you set down your tray and report to the Snake Pit. If you're a newer trainee, they'll probably call you over to ask you a memory work question and make an example out of you. Maintain your military bearing as best as possible, or else they'll drag it out. Do not leave until they tell you to. If your performance is unacceptable, they'll pull a 341. If you're sitting at your table and doing something completely unacceptable, they will approach you while you're eating and blast you at the table.
There are a couple rectangular tables separate from everyone else. One is reserved for Dorm Chiefs, the other for trainees on eating waivers. Yes, some trainees will be put on an eating waiver after going to the clinic. I'm not entirely sure of what necessitates an eating waiver, but these trainees get additional time to eat.
You'll lust after the dessert cases at BMT, turning with puddings, pies, cakes, canned sodas, etc. There's also a coffee dispenser and a soft serve machine. Touch them if you care not about your life. Keep side-stepping, trainee, not going to happen. However, there are Nutri Grain bars that you can take if you're feeling ballsy. In our dining facility, they were behind us. Some MTIs didn't care if you merely turned around and grabbed one. Others yelled if you didn't set your tray down, come to attention, about face, step forward and grab a bar, about face, and step back into line. I think it was the fourth week before I felt confident enough to start grabbing the Nutri Grain bars. Sunday is an easier day to grab these, if you're attempting it for the first time. They're the closest thing to dessert that you're going to get at BMT, most likely. It wasn't until 8th week when we made a bet with our MTI that resulted in us being able to select a dessert. You'd better believe I went for the soft serve!
- Eat a banana every meal that you can. It'll give you the potassium that you need to prevent shin splints. Many of my trainees enjoyed putting peanut butter on their banana.
- Eat a peanut butter packet at every meal. It's like another "shot" of protein that you'll need.
- Careful when drinking milk, especially in the first few weeks when you're really rushed. I saw numerous trainees throw up after meals because they'd been drinking too fast.
- Monday Chicken Wrap Day was one of my favorite lunches. Make sure to dip it in ranch, which you'll find near the salad.
- Wednesday Pizza Day - amazing! This is also the same day they do wings, which many trainees loved as well.
- The vanilla yogurt (Weight Watchers brand) is the best flavor.
- One lunch is hot, sliced turkey. Add some shredded cheese from the salad bar and put it on two slices of bread and you'll have an amazing sandwich.
- Lunches were always better than dinner.
- Get the biscuit with hot fruit topping at breakfast. It's the closest thing to cobbler that you'll get, and it's delicious.
- The best cereal is Smart Start. I still buy it at the commissary. If they're serving fresh strawberries that day, slice them and put them on top.
- They always have a ton of fruit at chow. I used to eat grapes every chance I could.