Flying Steaks to Afghanistan

PHOTO Steak Team Mission prepares and serves steak dinners to soldiers in harms way to remote and hazardous areas determined by date and location by the US
Steak Team Mission prepares and serves steak dinners to soldiers in harms way to remote and hazardous areas determined by date and location by the US Military.

"Holy catfish!" said the Harvey Gough, and the only reason I'm using this quote is because it's one of the few I can. The 71-year-old Texas native has what used to be called a "colorful vocabulary," but I don't think even Crayola can do some of his words justice.

But never mind catfish; Gough wants to talk steak. After all, he's helped cooked 32,000 in the past 10 years, most of them for U.S. troops overseas. It's what the Dallas-based charitable group he founded does: Gough calls it, the Steak Team Mission.

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So is Gough (pronounced "Goff") a good cook? "What kind of a [unprintable adjective] question is that?" he bristles.

OK, OK, he spent much of the past 50 years as a restaurateur, slinging hamburgers, so Gough can definitely work a grill. And he knows something about the military too, after more than three decades in the Texas Army National Guard.

The latter experience left Gough with a lot of VIP contacts (his acquaintances include a certain former president who hails from the Lone Star State), and he doesn't hesitate to call any of them. In fact, right after 9/11, Gough, now out of the military, says he got on the phone with a fellow named Tommy Franks to ask what he could do to help, because as Gough likes to say, "Freedom isn't free." The general was understandably busy and hung up on Gough.

The man is nothing if not persistent, and he kept calling. Eventually he hit on a plan to bring steaks to soldiers. That message got through.

Gough plowed through tons of red tape (which meant dealing with all sorts of lesser beings Gough refers to as "swampers" and "dog robbers") before finally getting the go-ahead. Working with military brass, says Gough, is "like pushing wet spaghetti down the street."

But he persevered, and in early 2002 there he was in Uzbekistan, just north of Afghanistan, cooking steaks for the soldiers stationed there.

By the way, Gough likes to sign off as "steak6" on communications to his team -- the numeral six being military lingo for "leader."

Spicy Steaks for the Military

So why cook steaks? To show those who serve that people care. "It's…something from home," he says, for once hesitating ever so slightly.

Here's what's on his menu for the military:

Appetizer: Jalapeno encased in a piece of tenderloin wrapped with a slice of bacon
Entrée: 8 oz choice tenderloin, cooked to order
Sides: Ranch-style beans (with jalapenos) and corn bread (studded with jalapenos)
Dessert: Ice cream bar

Alert readers will note the preponderance of a certain spicy pepper, but Gough, a true man of the Southwest, seems mystified at questions about that: "They're good!" he says of the jalapenos.

The folks who've sampled his food sure seem to love it. Gough reports several soldiers have told him, "This is the best damn steak I've ever had."

He has since taken the steak show on the road to Kuwait, Iraq, Djibouti, Bucca and more, plus the USS Nimitz ("We fed 5,000 sailors on the deck, what they call their 'Steel Beach'," he says proudly).

He doesn't do it alone, of course. Gough gets plenty of help from several Dallas business folks plus corporate sponsors who give money or donate steaks at cost, or provide other services; American Airlines, for example, has helped fly thousands of pounds of meat from DFW to Frankfurt.

Says Tom Del Valle, senior vice president of AA's Airport Services, "We are glad to be able to provide air transportation for Steak Team Mission, and to support our men and women in uniform."

Newcomers are welcome, too. Terry Castle will leave his comfortable existence as a retiree in Plano, Texas, for the mission to Afghanistan next month (he was able to provide Gough with a Marine contact to get this particular trip rolling). Ask Castle why he's going, and he simply says, "It's a very, very worthy cause" and adds that Gough is a "great American patriot."

Gough doesn't like hearing that. What he does like is seeing the faces of all those far-from-home soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines when the team plunks down a perfectly done steak in front of them.

But the most emotional mission was not at some far-flung base; it was at home, at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio last November, when the team fed about 1,000 wounded warriors and their families.

Many of these diners were literally recovering from the scars of battle. "Seeing a 19- or 20-year-old kid coming through the steak line without a leg or missing an arm or they're burned and they've got their wife and little baby with them, it's just…" For once, Gough has no words.

But that doesn't last too long. Gough is talking about the next adventure, in Afghanistan. And no, he doesn't worry about mundane things like land mines: "I've done enough interesting things in my life, and besides, if it's my time to go, it's my time."

Now, back to those tenderloins.

"My preference is rare to medium-rare," he says knowingly. But not to worry -- when it comes to the men and women on the front lines or here at home, he'll cook them any way they want them.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website,, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.