Military victuals: “I dream of Sheba”

U.S. Air Force C-130J Hercules taking off from an airfield near Masada 5 Feb 2013. EUCOM Image.
USS Donald Cook departs Haifa 27 March 2018. U.S. Navy photo 180327-N-KP946-045 by MCS 2C Alyssa Weeks.

24 April 2018 |  Last month the U.S.-Saudi Arabia “Friendship Military Exercises 2018” and U.S.- Israel “Juniper Cobra 2018” joint maneuvers concluded. These Allied partnerships are nothing new and various countries have been building inter-operational capabilities with the United States’ armed forces over decades.

In November 2012 the U.S. Air Force was clandestinely operating armed General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drones from a remote civilian airport in southern Ethiopia and an “unspecified number” of U.S. Air Force personnel and defense contractors were working at an Ethiopian airfield under the auspices of the “Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.”

U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper in 2008. Photo Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Pratt. Via: Wikipedia.

They were officially there to counter “violent extremist organizations in East Africa” and “to execute and/or provide support to crisis response and limited contingency operations in order to protect U.S. military, diplomatic and civilian personnel, facilities and interests.”

Concurrently, the U.S. and Israel were collaborating via a comprehensive aerial defense exercise designated as “Austere Challenge 12.” Drills were conducted both within Israel and upon adjoining waters. These maneuvers involved some 1,000 U.S. personnel, who were directly posted to Israel, and an additional 2,500 troops based in Europe and elsewhere around the Mediterranean.

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Craig Franklin meets with IDF Brigadier General Nitzan Nuriel on 17 October 2012. EUCOM Image.

One important component of the joint operations was designed to test bilateral air defense capabilities, and a cadre of U.S. Army ground-to-air interceptor missile battery soldiers were on hand to train with their Israeli hosts. That same month, when terrorists began bombarding areas of Israel with hundreds of short-range rockets, the U.S. Navy vessels USS New York, USS Iwo Jima, and USS Gunston Hall changed course in unison and steamed toward the geographically small country to take up stations offshore in preparation for the possible evacuation of American civilians.

Through it all was the repeated need to feed. “An army travels on its stomach” is an idiom that is attributed to both Napoleon and Frederick the Great, and virtually every servicemember will attest to the fact that tasty victuals help to reduce the melancholiness caused by the individual’s separation from family and friends.

The Queen of Sheba section cropped from classic painting “Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon” by Edward Poynter (1890).

Food is necessary to sustain life, and fine sustenance is a luxury. One famous example of this fact is the saga of the Queen of Sheba‘s visit with King Solomon. The principal accounts are found in the biblical books of First Kings (1: 10-13) and Second Chronicles (9:1-12). This historic event is well documented in the art, music (i.e. Georg Friedrich Handel’s Baroque musical composition titled “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba“), and entertainment worlds, and within the religious and cultural traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Since that time, historians and dreamers have pictured the mysterious queen as a glamorous beauty.

Some scholars postulate that Sheba was in fact from the land of Ethiopia, and many Ethiopians believe that she was actually the ruler Queen Makeda (mākidā). Whether or not this conviction is true, the Queen of Sheba remains an important figure in Ethiopian folklore and generations have been reared on the ancient stories and influenced by their subtleties. Not surprisingly, some Ethiopian females have been honored with the name “Sheba” after birth.

Painting “Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon” by Sir Edward John Poynter (1890).

A contemporary example of the possible positive effects engendered by legends of the Queen of Sheba and the significance of meals is the fairly recent experience of an American who was, as hundreds of other “Yanks” were at the time, serving in uniform and sojourning in a country that is technically located in Asia but is frequently referred to as “the Middle East.”

The Queen of Sheba depicted in a 15th century manuscript now at Staats-und-Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen. Image via Wikipedia.

King Solomon obviously knew the significance of fine dining.  Both narratives in the Authorized King James Version of the Bible indicate that Sheba was greatly impressed with, among other things, “the meat of his table.” Therefore, one can readily deduce that Solomon’s astuteness included an understanding of the importance of offering a large selection of premium foodstuffs to emissaries and heads of state.

Sheba in 2012.

In 2012 a young Ethiopian woman by the name of Sheba was also aware of the importance of food. She was a civilian who expertly managed a base’s foodservice operations. This particular “Sheba,” said a short-service, volunteer, labor conscript named Yonatan, “was an exotic gem.” He conjectured that she “modeled her managerial philosophy and work ethic from lessons gleaned from the chronicles of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.”

The aforementioned speculation was bolstered by the fact that the regular army soldiers, reservists, and volunteers who regularly ate in Sheba’s dining facility had never previously tasted such excellent military “chow.” The selections she and her staff prepared and provided, Yonatan emphasized, “were sumptuous.” He readily reported that standard mess hall fare and the all too familiar MREs (“Meals, Ready-to-Eat) could in no way compare, and said that “every main course item was fresh from the fields.”

U.S. and Israeli service members attend the closing ceremony of Austere Challenge 2012 at Hatzor Israeli Air Force Base, Israel, 8 November 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Tyler Placie/Released.

Furthermore, the troops, the man noted, marveled at their host’s hospitality — just as the Queen of Sheba was awed by King Solomon’s attention.

Sheba was, as the  charming children’s book King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, puts (page 9) it, “kind to everyone” and “very wise.” To Sheba each soldier was seemingly a sovereign to be served to the best of her ability. Her subordinates worked diligently under her guidance, and Sheba labored on alone long after she had granted her underlings leave.

The Queen of Sheba may be forever remembered in the pages of Scripture, but the Sheba encountered in 2012 will forever be remembered by the troops who experienced her loving and diligent care. As Yonatan stated, “In my mind, although the Sheba I met was never coronated in a royal court, she will always be a princess.” Her legacy is one of exemplary and selfless service to others. “Frankly,” he said, “Sheba made an unfamiliar world a bit kinder and more enjoyable for us lonely and tired souls.” Yonatan concluded by confessing the following: “Whenever on or passing by a military installation at mealtime I wistfully dream of Sheba.”


The author (Susan Gale) thanks Yonatan and Military Aviation Chronicles for their assistance and cooperation during the composition of this article.

Suggested Viewing

Sources and Suggested Readings

2012 US-Israel military exercise

Ahead of largest ever joint US-Israel drill, generals say troop cutback insignificant

Austere Challenge 12

Ballistic Missile Defense Remains Focal Point of Juniper Cobra 2018

Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa

Ethiopia–United States relations

EUCOM, Israelis complete Austere Challenge exercise

Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Friendship Military Exercises 2018


Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

Greenberg, Blu and Linda Tarry. King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. New York: Pitspopany, 2009.

History of military nutrition in the United States

Iwo Jima, 26th MEU Arrive in Israel for Juniper Cobra 2018

Joint U.S.-Israel Exercise Juniper Cobra 2018 Concludes

Massive joint IAF-USEUCOM exercise to begin March,7340,L-5129204,00.html

Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE),_Ready-to-Eat

Operation Pillar of Defense

Queen of Sheba

The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

The Navy Ordered Three Huge Assault Ships To Turn Around And Go Straight To Israel

The Queen of Sheba & Solomon (10th Century B.C.E. – 955 B.C.E.)

The Queen of Sheba: Ethiopia’s Queen Makeda

The US Military’s Best-Kept Secret

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USS New York (LPD-21)

“way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”