IT IS PROBABLY SAFE to say that few U.S. troops are ravenous for recipe ideas, concerned about cholesterol or fed up with futile campaigns to shrink saddlebag thighs.
So it is odd to see so many issues of Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times and Weight Watchers Magazine on the periodicals rack at one of the U.S. Army's biggest stores for soldiers here in Eastern Saudi Arabia.
You want a Sports Illustrated? Sorry, none here, hardly ever get 'em in. Newsweek? Out of luck again.
But you want a McCall's Needlework and Crafts, Good Housekeeping or Country Living? Go ahead, have one, even two! There are plenty to go around.
"I'm really looking for ways to improve the decor of my place here," said Pfc. Chad Twombley, 20, of Warsaw, Ind., shaking his head. He works with a supply and services battalion and lives in a barracks-type arrangement.
"I'd like to see more news magazines, something that would explain what's going on here."
One of the questions swirling around the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia is how magazines like these got into a soldiers' store like this.
The store, a soldiers-only shopping place, is called a post exchange, or PX. The Army runs several like it in the more urban areas of the country. They look like dwarf, spartan Kmarts, with a similar array of goods.
Robert Hunt, the store's civilian assistant manager, said the glossy magazines observed on a recent afternoon were not leftovers from a much larger stock. They reflected a typical shipment and were representative of periodicals racks at PXs throughout Saudi Arabia, Hunt said.
Hunt doesn't know why he gets these magazines, many of which never sell, he said. He asks his Army distributors back in the United States for a variety. This is what comes.
Mike Bixby, who helps oversee the stocking of PXs in Saudi Arabia, said that before troops started arriving in August, the main customers of the PXs were the wives and children of soldiers and officers stationed here.
He said he asked Stars and Stripes, which pre-selects and ships all the magazines, to change the assortment several months ago, but it was slow to respond.
"It has not been a good experience getting the titles we want," he said. "Nobody cares about crocheting or needlework."
Bixby said the selections shipped began improving "drastically" about three weeks ago, with more sports and automotive periodicals arriving. The new magazines just now are making their way onto the shelves of PXs, he said.
In fairness, there were a few stacks of periodicals in which soldiers expressed interest on a recent afternoon. Business Week enjoyed considerable favor, as did Time and the sports section of a days-old USA Today.
But the vast majority of magazines on display belonged to the categories of personal and home improvement and were targeted at women, a small minority of Desert Shield troops.
Even selections soldiers might read back home Men's Fitness, Runner's World and Flex, which had a sweaty Arnold Schwarzenegger pumping iron on the cover had little relevance to the way they live in the desert as they wait for war.
And some choices were positively absurd for instance Highlights, the children's magazine.
"It doesn't make any sense," Army Spec. George Davis, 22, of London, Ky., said. "I'd like to see something to do with music, because I play guitar. Soldier of Fortune would be nice. I think it would apply right now."
But a female Army specialist, who did not want to be identified, said she thinks the guys protest too much at least about certain of the women's magazines.
Because pornography is illegal in Saudi Arabia magazines like Playboy and Penthouse are banned. The woman said she's seen male soldiers buy copies of Shape, which focuses on women's fitness and health, because its photographs are the closest thing to girlie pictures.
Hunt said that one of his best-selling magazines is Cosmopolitan. He declined to speculate on the reasons.