Inside the Gates: Small army keeps JBER troops fed
As Napoleon Bonaparte famously said, “An army marches on its stomach.” Making sure our modern military is well supplied takes as much effort and planning as preparing for battle.
It’s something staff at the Iditarod Dining Facility on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson know well. Airman 1st Class James Tapang says things can get busy, but he doesn’t mind.
“The more people there is, the more people I can help,” said the services apprentice airman.
Tapang signed up to serve, literally. It was his U.S. Air Force job of choice.
“Services was one of my top three because I genuinely care about people and serving,” he said.
Tapang and a small army of military and civilian staff serve four meals a day at the Iditarod facility. Lunch is the most in demand.
“We approximately feed about maybe 600 during our lunch, so it’s quite busy,” said facility assistant manager Michael Thornton. “You’re looking at at least a minimum of eight hours prep time.”
Besides the daily options, they also host a number of special meals, from the upcoming Mardi Gras celebration to more traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
“Just to kind of give our airmen and soldiers a little taste of home being so far away,” said facility manager Master Sgt. Angela Roshto. “It’s nice to see a smile on their face as they leave and know that we were able to provide them something nourishing and good at the same time.”
Most of the Iditarod Dining Facility staff members’ work is hidden in the back. They’re always stirring, slicing and stacking, sometimes cooking to order, sometimes preparing grab-and-go options.
“We focus on ensuring that we have a nice force that’s fit to fight and plenty of options for them to eat,” Roshto said.
That focus paid off. The Iditarod Dining Facility staff won the 2016 Hennessy Award, honoring them as the best dining facility in the entire Air Force.
“A lot of our hard work goes on in the background and then of course the customer enjoys it and of course from management perspective, we enjoy what we do, but it’s nice to have worldwide recognition,” Thornton said.
The staff there say they know they help their fellow service members be successful.
“Food is morale, so of course the better the food is, the higher the morale, the greater the productivity is,” Thornton said.
“We’re all away from our family and we’re all in this together,” Tapang added.
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