Desert Diamond Shines in the Rough

20 Sep 2003 | Army Spc. Benjamin Kibbey

For soldiers deployed to a foreign land reminders of home that take them away from the day-to-day routine of military life for a moment can be a precious and helpful break.

In the Kuwaiti desert, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service brings the soldiers many services like shopping and name brand fast food, but the unusual touches mean the most like a Chinese restaurant.

The Desert Diamond Chinese Restaurant sits in a nondescript trailer-style building like so many other AAFES shops, but inside is an environment entirely outside of everything in this otherwise foreign country.

"It's nice to have food around here that's something different," said Cpl. Richard C. Fletcher, 24, from Gaithersburg, Md., here with the 1108th Aviation Classification Repair Depot, an independent National Guard company from Gulf Port, Miss.

"It's good food," he added.  "It's nice to have something like this where you can go in and eat something beside chow food."

"I eat Chinese at least once a week in states," he said, adding that his favorite dish at the Desert Diamond is Chow Mien noodles.  "Our Friday night thing is we go and get some Chinese food somewhere, me and my wife."

The menu features a variety of the foods normally available in any Chinese restaurant, such as sweat and sour chicken and egg rolls, and the menu items are switched-out regularly to keep things fresh, said the manager, Kim Yong, from California, who has worked for AAFES for four years now.

"Everyday we change two or three kinds of things," he said, adding, "[The customers] like the food very much. They say it's delicious."

"Some of it's as good as food in the states, some of it's better," said Fletcher.  "This is pretty good food; when it comes down to it, this is good."

"The food's good," said Sgt. Gary Askey, 36, from Altoona, Penn., a member of the 629th Transportation Company out of Clearfield, Penn.  "They give you enough to fill up a big guy.  It's about the same [as Chinese food in the states]."

"I like their egg rolls," added the second-time visitor.

"There's no other place you can sit down and eat like this," said Spc. Deanna R. Ohls, 23, a member of the 629th from Brookeville, Penn.  She added that what she liked best about the restaurant were the dishes without meat, since she is a vegetarian.

The workers come in everyday at 7 a.m., and are ready to begin serving the servicemembers by 9 a.m., said Mohan Rai, 21, an AAFES worker originally from Nepal.  The restaurant stays open all day, with the workers not closing-up shop until 10 p.m., he said.

The restaurant first opened Feb. 5, 2002, and has served the men and women of Camp Arifjan since then.  The restaurant was closed during the recent conflict due to security restrictions that prevented the workers from coming onto base.

AAFES hopes, as Camp Arifjan continues to grow and develop, there is no end in sight for the Desert Diamond and the little touch of home it brings to those serving their country in a faraway land.