Veterans Day Free Meal Menu at Olive Garden

A Shout Out to Olive Garden and Starbucks for Veterans Day Offers

Every year that I’ve been in the United States on Veterans Day I’ve had the opportunity to get freebies from various companies when dining out. For example, Olive Garden offered a free entree and Starbucks offered a free tall (small) plain coffee for veterans. I took advantage of both. There are other sites that have lists of what restaurants offered this year, though. That’s not really the point of this post.

I was just thinking about how great it is that as a veteran these companies are willing to recognize my military service by giving me something for free. Granted, people who serve in the military are essentially putting themselves at risk to preserve the U.S. way of life, including its economy, in theory, and are protecting these businesses as a result, but that doesn’t obligate them to offer discounts or free meals.

I suppose I’m a pessimist. You almost have to draw blood to get wages raised to what constitutes a living wage. Companies cut corners by putting yoga mat material in their so-called meat patties to increase profits. So, to see a company just putting stuff out there for veterans for free still surprises me every year.

This post is basically just a big thank you to those companies and especially to Olive Garden and Starbucks since I’ve gone to those establishments nearly every year on Veterans Day. Thanks!

This is my favorite AC-130 Spectre Gunship video

I spent 8 years in the Army. If I’d known better, I’d have joined the Air Force, like my dad did. And if I had joined the Air Force, being on an AC-130 gunship crew wouldn’t have been a bad gig. I wanted to do something meaningful, but I wound up spending most of my time loading and unloading trucks with a forklift or counting inventory. It wasn’t exactly fulfilling.

I was lured into the job by the promise that I would be working with computers. I enlisted back in 1998. Computers were still a new and amazing thing in my life, and probably most people’s lives, if they could even afford a computer and internet service. Windows 95 and America Online chat rooms were still sources of wonder and amazement.

Once I was enlisted and working in that field, I was unable to negotiate to move into a more interesting job when it came time for my reenlistment. Once you’re in an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), you’re pretty much stuck, unless you want to move into a job with a low retention rate, like basic infantry. I’d like to think that if I had the Internet as it is today as a resource, with blogs and extensive forums, I would have made better choices.

These videos are pretty graphic. Please keep that in mind before watching.

The following video (when autoplay is enabled) is pretty interesting too:

Scarlett Johansson’s Autograph from Kuwait in 2008

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When I was looking through some old folders trying to sort and put away documents, I found this autographed poster that I had forgotten about. I didn’t forget about meeting Scarlett Johansson, but I did forget that I have her autograph as well.

She was in Kuwait on a troop morale type of tour, visiting the US military bases that were (are?) set up in the deserts of Kuwait. I suppose it goes without saying that a lot of people wanted to meet her. The line was tremendously long, and we only had a minute or two per group of people to get autographs and chat. I got the feeling she was a little disconcerted by the pace of the event. That’s the military for you though.

Fried Wings, Potato Wedges and a Biscuit at the Bronx VA Hospital

Greasy Chicken Wings

A few days ago I had to go to the Veteran’s Administration hospital in the Bronx for my annual physical. I was quite a few months late going this year. Last Semester was just too overwhelming for me to find time to get anything done. I still have lots of errands I need to take care of that I should have done during those four months as well as other things I want to get done before Spring starts.

I somehow don’t think I’m going to get through all of the reading I’d like to do before the semester starts, but I am enjoying having a lot more quality time with my wife. We’re catching up on a lot of television shows together. We sort of stopped loving Breaking Bad because it was dragging too much with the car wash nonsense and Skylar being so annoying (not to mention Walt was turning into sort of a wuss) and now we’re getting hooked on Fringe. Thanks Netflix! House of Cards was good too. I guess we’ll get back to Breaking Bad eventually.

I’m also trying to get my fitness level back up. I’m taking it slow though. I spent four months basically doing nothing physically strenuous. I have a Fitbit Force to help me stay motivated. It’s amazing how hard it is to cheat yourself when you can see the numbers in front of you plain as day, in terms of calories consumed versus calories burned.

Fried Wings, Potato Wedges and a Biscuit at the Bronx VA Hospital
Fried Wings, Potato Wedges and a Biscuit at the Bronx VA Hospital

So, coming back around to what I meant to write about in this post, which has to do with calories, I was surprised by just how disgustingly greasy the fried chicken at the VA hospital cafeteria was. When I went for my physical the doctor surprised me by telling me I should have blood work done. He surprised me more by having the nurse draw what seemed like almost a pint out of my arm. I didn’t have breakfast, so I went straight to the cafeteria afterwards to eat a decent meal to make sure I didn’t collapse on the way home.

There were plenty of choices but somehow the need to go a little overboard to replace all the blood I lost led me to the fried chicken buffet. It was a bad move. I put three fried wings on my plate but I could only stomach one before my stomach started to turn. At first I thought it was the change in diet I’d made away from greasy foods to more steamed and boiled dishes, but I’ve had fried chicken from other places, like Popeye’s, that didn’t leave such a bad taste in my mouth. We ate a plate of amazing soy garlic wings at Boka Bon Chon yesterday and it was fine, but hours after I left the hospital I could still taste heavy oil in my mouth. It must just be the way that chicken was prepared.

Thinking about it, I wonder if the same preparation method was used at the cafeterias I ate at when I was on active duty in the Army. Procedures are pretty standard in the military or military related facilities and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a field manual or technical manual related to the frying of chicken and operation of deep fryers. I used to really enjoy that chicken. Now I can’t stand it.

How much did the Army really teach me about physical fitness? I’m beginning to feel like I didn’t learn anything other than how to follow a physical exercise routine in the morning. I wasn’t taught how to evaluate food choices or supplement choices and I wasn’t given any understanding of how sleep, diet, and overall physical activity would affect my health. Perhaps I should have taken the initiative and looked that up myself, but as a young soldier who was trained to just listen and do as instructed, it never occurred to me to think that far outside the box, especially when sleep deprivation and ordering pizza are such big parts of military culture. So, I would exercise in the morning, eat fried chicken for lunch, maybe pizza for dinner, and then I would wonder why I never really saw any physical improvement.

If I recall correctly, the units I was in had people who were trained to be masters of physical fitness. They went to some sort of course to learn about physical fitness. What was the point of that? Were they not trained properly? Did the command structure ignore their recommendations? Or was it just a mark on a check-list to satisfy civilian committees who evaluated the military’s commitment to the health and well-being of service members that was never seriously implemented?

I learned a lot from my time in the military, but the more I learn outside of the military, the more I realize I was left in the dark in areas that were key to being a successful soldier. But, I suppose one can’t expect the military structure, composed mostly of high school graduates, to impart the understanding that comes with a college education and life experience to new recruits. Officers could do something about that, being college graduates, but there aren’t enough officers and that isn’t really their job.

Veteran’s Day Dinner 2013

PVT Elma and Me July 30 1999 Fort Lee VA, AIT
“PVT Elma + Me. July 30, 99 Fort Lee, VA (AIT)”

Ever since I enlisted in the Army and businesses started offering Veterans Day promotions, I’ve tried to make it to a participating business each year. I’m not one to pass up free food, especially when it’s from a place like Olive Garden. I’m just being practical. Besides, I’m a veteran, and in a way, I already paid for it. That’s what the day is about, and I’m glad businesses have decided to give back to the veteran community one day a year in a show of appreciation for the efforts and loss that some people went through, or are still going through, for those on active duty.

The first time I remember going to a restaurant for a free meal on Veterans Day was when I was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. I think I went to a Golden Corral or a similar all-you-can-eat buffet-style restaurant with a group of guys from my unit.  This year, like last year, my wife and I went to the Olive Garden in Times Square. In addition to the free entree for veterans, the restaurant was offering 10% off for family members. I’m not sure if that was 10% off the rest of the bill, or just the other entree(s). I forgot to check and tossed the receipt already, but it doesn’t really matter to me. A discount is a discount.

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The entree options for veterans were limited, but they offered a nice variety of choices. I went with the cheese ravioli. We also got the stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer and my wife ordered the capellini pomodoro, which she said tasted delicious.  It looked delicious. I also ordered a new drink they have, a blood orange blackberry iced tea. That tasted outstanding.

Blood Orange Blackberry Iced Tea
Blood Orange Blackberry Iced Tea
Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce
Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce
Capellini Pomodoro
Capellini Pomodoro

These guys were outside the Olive Garden. I thought it was pretty cool, so I want to share the photo:

Mounted NYPD
Mounted NYPD

We finished the evening off at Starbucks, which was offering a free tall brewed coffee to veterans and family members.

The evening wasn’t completely free, but the discounts at Olive Garden made our evening out more affordable and gave my wife and I an opportunity to be thankful for my coming home in one piece, to remember those who didn’t, and gave us another reason to just spend time together out of the house. We’re looking forward to doing it again next year.