For thousands, Killeen is a place you get stationed, not a place you vacation. However, those who visit will find a culinary and military escape that takes visitors back in history and around the world—all without leaving Central Texas.
9:00 a.m. I don’t normally start my day trips driving past armored guards and security checkpoints, but it’s a necessary step when visiting Fort Hood, one of the largest military installations in the free world. Established in 1942, today this Army post is home to more than 47,000 enlisted soldiers and their fam ilies. In 1958, it housed Elvis Presley, who was stationed here before his time in Germany. Most of Fort Hood is open to the public with a pass, and there are two museums that civilians can enjoy: the 3d Cavalry Regiment Museum, which recounts this regiment’s early days in Texas along the rugged frontier, all the way to its recent service in Iraq; and the 1st Cavalry Museum, with exhibits showing “America’s First Team” in action during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and most recently Afghanistan. Outside each museum sit fields of tanks, helicopters, and military vehicles that only reinforced the magnitude of war for me. I left with a re- newed sense of respect for our soldiers both at Fort Hood and around the world.
1:00 p.m. While an Elvis-inspired fried pea-nut-butter-and-banana sandwich would have hit the spot, I opted instead to explore Killeen’s international food scene. Fort Hood soldiers have often traveled the world and returned with very well-traveled tastes. As a result, Killeen offers foods from all over the globe. I had lunch at Taiwan Dragon, a Killeen institution with not only great Chinese food, but also walls covered in photographs comprising a veritable “Who’s Who” of Fort Hood. Browsing the pictures of current and past generals was almost as fun as eating my plate of tasty General Tso’s Chicken.
2:00 p.m. I cruised the streets of Downtown Killeen (currently undergoing a streetscaping project). I drove the blocks of historic storefronts and detoured past Elvis’ one-time residence on Oakhill Drive. No surprise, there were dozens of surplus stores open for business.
2:30 p.m. On a whim, I stopped into Surplus City to find neat and tidy aisles very different from the typical surplus stores I’m used to. In Killeen, surplus stores are for real soldiers, not just hobbyists, collectors, and costume mongers like me. I wandered the aisles of authentic clothes, boots, and accessories, grabbing everything I need-ed to prepare for my next mission.
3:30 p.m. Donning my new fatigues, I headed into combat (well, pretend combat) on the fields of Comanche Badlandz Paint- ball, which features multiple arenas where visitors can ex perience the challenge of war-fare without the risk. However, the first paintball to my chest confirmed that there is still some sting in this battle. After a few hours, I had tasted victory … and defeat.
6:30 p.m. Paintball can certainly build an appetite. To return to Killeen’s culinary melting pot, I head ed to C&H Hawaiian Grill, owned by island natives Hensan and Cora Timo, who moved to Killeen when their sons were stationed at Fort Hood. Even though it was dinnertime, I ordered a tradi tional Hawaiian plate lunch overflowing with kalua pork, chicken katsu, and the staple sides of white rice and macaroni salad. In a single bite, I was transported from the Lone Star State to the Aloha State, and all I could say to the owners was mahalo (thank you) for coming to Killeen.
If you’re ready to expe rience military history, paintball battlefields, or international foods, Killeen offers a world of options. And if the town was good enough for The King, then it’s definitely good enough for me. So, whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.
Contact the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, 254/526-9551.
Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper™ travel show on PBS.