A day in the life: The culinary warriors

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Natasha E. Stannard
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Total Force Integration is an entity that is a fairly new practice for some units and organizations on practically every Air Force base. 

The Fairchild Air Force Base Dining Facility has been exercising this practice long before the title of TFI was applied to the long lived practice, said Tech. Sgt. Ryan Warner, 141st Force Support Squadron services craftsman. 

"Fairchild is one of the last bases with military members working in the kitchen, most others have gone completely with contract workers where as here we have Guard, civilian contractors, and active duty all working together in the same facility," Sergeant Warner said. 

Sergeant Warner feels that Guard members bring a lot of experience and techniques to the dining facility and Air Force from their civilian jobs which range from school teacher to chief financial officers. 

"Working with and mentoring active duty is a very rewarding part of the job," Sergeant Warner said. "They're going to replace me one day - I want to give them a chance to let them show me what they've got." 

Airman 1st Class Isylma Edge, 92nd Force Support Squadron services apprentice, works the morning shift from 4:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the Warrior Dining Facility. 

She said she has always enjoyed anything having to do with the culinary arts and hopes to become a pastry chef. Her passion for cooking assesses her with a will to keep learning new processes and techniques which she continues to learn from military members and civilian counterparts. 

Civilian contractors bring a great deal of culinary experience to the table. Many of them have worked in the culinary industry, which has them prepped with knowledge on how to cook and improve recipes, Airman Edge said. 

The civilian contractors not only help guide Airmen, but they also help a lot with the cooking, especially when military members are deployed. 

Airman 1st Class Sarafina Simmons, 92nd Force Support Squadron services apprentice, works the afternoon shift from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. In this time, she serves lunch, makes sandwiches and wraps in the grill line, prepares dinner and serves dinner. 

Preparation for breakfast is completed in an hour. 

"Breakfast goes out at 5:30 a.m. sharp, so we have to make sure the omelet bar is ready and that the French toast and pancake mix is prepared - for the line boiled eggs, hash browns, waffles, biscuits, oatmeal, grits ,gravy, bacon and sausage all have to be prepared," Airman Edge said. 

Aside from preparing breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight meals, approximately 20 flight meals are prepared a day. Sometimes more are needed depending on circumstances. The meals are usually ordered two hours prior to the time they're needed, but sometimes the cooks are required to prepare them with only 20 minutes before they're needed, Sergeant Warner said. 

"Around 9/11, we were getting around 200 flight meals a day--we had three full time people just working the flight kitchen," Sergeant Warner said. 

The large amount of flight meals can make the job stressful along with an unexpected large group of people on top of the regular patrons. Exercises can also pose a difficult time because much like 9/11, at least two people have to work in the flight kitchen on at least 200 meals for the flyers while the rest of the crew has to work quickly with less man-power to get the regular meal out on time, Airman 1st Class Tamekia Jackson, 92nd Force Support Squadron services apprentice, said. 

Airman Simmons said getting the meal finished on time is crucial. Sometimes the crew will be short manned for base clean up and various activities, but that doesn't change the fact that meals have to be out by a certain time and that patrons have to be served in a timely manner. It can be difficult with a short staff especially when there's only one person on the grill, but the job gets done. 

"If the food isn't out on time, that means I haven't done my job," Airman Jackson said.
There are other factors other than the detrimental task of getting the food out on time, which prove a job well done. If all the food is eaten, there aren't any leftovers and nothings in the waste log it means everything went and was enjoyed, therefore the mission to produce great food and support morale was accomplished, Airman Simmons said. 

Being recognized for the hard work put in to produce the best product you can is rewarding. Receiving good feedback from the customers, whether it's a comment card from an Airman, a coin from a general or food flying off the line speaks volumes, said Airman Jackson. 

While food flying off the line is considered a compliment, it also poses a technique instilled in all Airmen during basic training, attention to detail. 

"Its very important to pay attention to detail, notice what's running low and keep track of what you're putting on the line so you know what needs to be refilled or made," Airman Jackson said. ""You always have to cook before you run out." 

The crew also ensures they don't run out of ingredients. When the facility is running low on food, Airmen working on the line communicate it to the shift leader who then goes to the store room so they can make sure they have a sufficient amount of inventory for the rest of the week, Airman Edge said. 

"The biggest component of what we do is teamwork - without that, the kitchen is chaos," Airman Edge said. "You need to be able to communicate and work together effectively and we do that every day. " 

The store room has a lot of responsibility because they make sure that the Dining Facility has enough food. They have to keep track of how much certain items are consumed and order them accordingly. The staff in the store room has a sufficient amount of experience on the floor, which in turn gives them a very good idea of what items and how many of them need to be ordered, said Airman Jackson. 

Senior Airman Johann Ko, 92nd Force Support Squadron services journeyman, works in the store room. He said keeping inventory accountability of all the products can be difficult. Knowing how much needs to be ordered can be crucial because you don't want to waste and order too much or run out from ordering too little. 

While the being a part of running this facility, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week - regardless of holidays - can prove to be stressful, the crew enjoys working together and is more of a family than colleagues. If anyone is ever feeling down they pull together to lift them back up, said Airman Jackson. 

"We're our own little family," said Airman Jackson 

The crew not only looks out for each other, but also for the morale of the entire base. It's a part of the job to keep everyone's morale up, said Airman Jackson. 

"I love making things that can make people happy," said Airman Edge. "We take pride in what we make and put a lot of effort into it."