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Air Force chefs serve recipes for success

  • Published
  • By Maj. Beth Kelley Horine
  • Air Force Personnel Center Public Affairs
What do Julia Child, Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray all have in common with Airman 1st Class Ryan Scott? Like Airman Scott, they are all professional chefs. Granted, Airman Scott may not have a multi million dollar television contract and an international, best-selling cookbook, but he does cook delicious, nutritious food for a living.

"The Air Force has military cooks to help support our warfighting mission and provide quality of life through our dining facilities, menus and food options," Airman Scott explained.

Stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Airman Scott's responsibilities include much more than cooking. He also cleans and maintains one of the finalists for best dining facility in the Air Force for 2004 and 2005, as well as accomplishes menu planning, prepares for the next day's meals and supports the Fit to Fight program through nutritional balancing of food options.

"We ensure our primary customers, junior enlisted Airmen on meal cards and deployed Airmen overseas, receive nutritious meals that allow them to do their job well and accomplish our Air Force mission," said Master Sgt. Jeffrey Fricke, Shaw's sustainment services flight superintendent and one of Airman Scott's supervisors. "If Airmen aren't well fed, the Air Force mission will be hindered."

The Warfighting Chef

In 2006, the military chef was among those in the Services--or 3MO--career field named by the chief master sergeant of the Air Force as the Career Field of the Year, highlighting the vital importance of Services Airmen during a peak operational time in Air Force history.

"When the senior enlisted person in the Air Force puts the spotlight on one career field it says a lot about our mission and what we are accomplishing, especially during wartime," said Christopher Skully, Shaw's 20th Force Support Squadron deputy. "Our food services Airmen have always greatly impressed me. They are heroes in the [Area of Responsibility], making dining facilities, lodging, community and recreation programs available to our troops on the front line."

Primary differences between a famous, gourmet chef and an Air Force chef is the amount of people they feed on a daily basis; the locations where they do it--deployed, austere areas often in a war zone; as well as the required expertise in other Services-related areas, like lodging, fitness, mortuary affairs, training and internal readiness.

Master Sgt. Jason Hall, the food service section chief at Eglin AFB, Fla., explains the versatility of Services career field.

"One of the main reasons the Air Force even has military cooks is to respond to the needs of a deployed location. We provide force sustainment in austere locations, ensuring deployed bases have the basic necessities available for mission feeding and accomplishment. Deploying is our main mission," Sergeant Hall said.

"We are usually the first in and some of the last out," he added.

A major difference between a home-station and a deployed location food service operation is the amount of food received to manage and sustain the force. The scope of service is multiplied exponentially when military chefs deploy.

"For example, at Shaw, we get about six pallets--or about $15,000--of food per week to manage our dining facilities; deployed locations get approximately 90 pallets--around $250,000--of food, per week, with some larger locations receiving over $800,000 of food a week," Sergeant Fricke said. "Everything we do is increased when deployed, and the training we receive by doing our job at home prepares us for our deployed mission."

Home Cooked Meals

Services Airmen practice their deployed skills at home through training, managing and executing their home-base mission. A typical day for an Air Force chef at Eglin's Breeze Dining Facility, where Sergeant Hall serves as supervisor, includes synchronizing 60 to 75 tasks per meal period, and those tasks may need to be done five to six times per meal for the same item.

"This is a fast-moving and potentially stressful environment, and our Airmen are professionals and do it well. The most important aspect of a military cook's job is timing," Sergeant Hall said. "This style of cooking is very different from cooking at home due to the volume. Airmen have to constantly evaluate the needs of the customers in order to best serve them."

The Breeze Dining Facility recently won the 2009 Hennessy award for best dining facility in the Air Force. 

"Our first-class training and customer service contributed to our being chosen as the Hennessy award winner for best dining facility in the Air Force. Our method is simple: we find out what customers want, we figure out what we're able to do, and then we find out if the customers like it--or in other words, if we're doing it right," Sergeant Hall added.

Shaw's dining facility team also shares a customer-service focus, according to Staff Sgt. Tiffany Keepler, a food service supervisor.

"Our Airmen are friendly and take pride in being a military cook. For example, we place name cards in front of all of our entrees that display who prepared each dish. Our menu boards also display nutrition information, prices and menu options," Sergeant Keepler said.

"The biggest thing that contributed to the Shaw Dining Facility being a Hennessy award finalist is the personnel who work here provide quality services and care about their jobs," Sergeant Fricke added. "Our programs far exceed the minimum requirements for dining facility standards, and we do what is best for our customers, the Airmen."

Professional Presentation

For an Airman living on base, the dining facility is often the start and end to their day. Air Force chefs often set the tone for an Airman's workday or weekend by providing a healthy meal in a positive, friendly environment.

However, most military chefs feel they fight the common misperception that anyone could do their job.

"A lot of people think they can do my job better than me, or that I'm not educated because I'm a cook," Airman Scott said. "That's just not the case--we have to be qualified in numerous activities and maintain proficiencies in food service, lodging, fitness, recreation, mortuary affairs and other programs. Some of my co-workers are the most educated Airmen I've seen, several have masters' degrees. Most of us chose this career field because of the hospitality industry--it's a big choice for Airmen to serve others," Airman Scott added.

Sergeant Hall further explained why misperceptions about professionalism of Air Force chefs in the Services career field are "1,000 percent incorrect."

"Services and our new Force Support squadrons have some of the most professional people around. We are asked to do a lot with very little that must please a lot of different people. This is no small task," he said. "Very few people have cooked for 4,000 people. It's not like cooking at home...if cooking was so easy, they wouldn't make TV shows about it."

A Buffet of Future Options

In January 2007, Transformation of Food Operations was identified by the Manpower, Personnel and Services community as the highest priority initiative to better serve Air Force communities and improve Airmen's quality of life.

In response, a hybrid concept--transforming traditional dining facilities and NAF food and beverage operations--is under development by Headquarters Air Force Services. The new concept, called Food Transformation, will provide improved efficiency of facilities and manpower, enhance home station training to meet deployed skill competencies for enlisted Services Airmen, and increase variety, quality and availability of food options for Airmen and their families.

"Here at Shaw we're very excited to learn more about the modernized food facilities and adoption of a campus-style dining environment the Food Transformation program will bring Air Force wide," Mr. Skully said.

"Although Shaw's not one of the initial six bases to implement the new program, we look forward to continuing to find new ways to provide healthier, higher quality food service and options for our Airmen and their families--and Food Transformation will help do just that," he added.

Currently, six Air Force bases are selected for transformation in fiscal year 2010. Air Force Services and major commands are working together to identify additional bases for future participation in the Food Transformation program. More information on the program and benefits it will bring for base communities will be released as Food Transformation begins.

For anyone interested in becoming a Services Airman or Air Force chef, prior knowledge or experience in food service is desired, but not required, Sergeant Hall said. "Enthusiasm and a strong work ethic are more important," he added.

To join the Services team, find your local Air Force recruiter at, or contact your military personnel section for information on cross-training opportunities.