Soldiers dining in typical mess hall in Iraq.

Soldiers dining in typical mess hall in Iraq.

From an outsider’s perspective, Floyd Lee runs your average cafeteria.  To scores of American troops, Lee runs a five-star, gourmet cafe right in the heart of Baghdad.

“I am not just in charge of food service,” said the director of the Pegasus mess hall in Iraq. “I am in charge of morale.”

Lee, a former Army cook, had been in the armed forces for 25 years, but he came out of retirement when the Iraq War began. His mission: to provide American troops with a respite from the turmoil and horrors of war.

“I’ve been waiting for this job all my life,” he said.

The Pegasus gets its food from the same sources as every other military dining hall. Normally, that means bland, overcooked, and often inedible fare.

Not at the Pegasus, where Lee and his crew have created a pleasing atmosphere, a gourmet approach, and a presentation that convinces soldiers to brave the treacherous Iraqi roads just to taste variety.

The walls of the hall are covered with sports banners to make the troops feel like they’re back at home. Gold window treatments, ceiling fans with soft lights, and green tablecloths with tassles give the dining room an air of style — as do the chefs in white hats.

But it’s the food that most often transports soldiers to a happier place. Lee’s staff culls its fruit daily, only serving the best selections to his diners.  His Sunday prime rib is marinated for at least three days in his secret Louisiana-inspired marinade.  And he places two pitchers of iced tea at each meal.

“The time you are in here,” said Sgt. David Sammy, “you forget you are in Iraq.”

For more on this story, check out Man Cave Radio episode 23.

What is your life’s work? Are you just performing daily tasks, or have you identified how you can truly make a difference for other people?