Kitchen managers have a lot on their plate
August 22, 2011
FORWARD OPERATING BASE TARIN KOWT, Afghanistan (July 25, 2011) - Around the world, no matter where from you hail or where you are, a commonality everyone shares is food.
Those of us bringing home the bacon out here in Afghanistan rely on core people who help keep us battle-ready in the most basic of ways: through our stomachs.
They are the bread and butter of the mission. Without them, our mission would crumble.
During the daily grind, we burn more calories here as we bake in the desert sun, more so than we do in garrison. Caloric intake must be preserved in order to balance work exerted here.
The core of the matter is nutritional needs vary in different environments. Undoubtedly, water is the most important nutrient a body needs, so it is paramount to hydrate in a dryer environment.
"Often what happens when the temperatures are high, folks lose their desire to eat, and then other nutrition problems follow," said Capt. Mariann Butler, the deputy chief of the Nutrition Care Division at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell, Ky. "It is important to consume three meals a day (to incorporate) lean meats, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains."
Presenting a well-balanced meal for a body in this bone-dry environment is no cakewalk. Let's examine the important factors in serving food jam-packed with the nutrients Soldiers need.
Staff Sgt. Gabriel Bridges of Chicago, the operations NCO in charge for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Task Force Thunder (159th Combat Aviation Brigade) was the the senior food operations manager for Headquarters Support Company for Task Force Fighting (563rd Aviation Support Battalion) when TF Thunder deployed to Bagram during Operation Enduring Freedom 09-10. He does not waffle around about the necessity for extra nutritional requirements here in this scorching sun.
"You have to prepare items higher in nutrients," he said. "You also have to have a large selection of fruits available to the Soldiers at all times because that's what's going to keep them sustaining the fight. It's important the Soldiers are provided the optimal selections of the foods available from the six food groups."
Making food that appeals to Soldiers and civilians from all walks of life is no small potatoes. At Kandahar Airfield, there are several dining facilities, some serving food of the American culture, some touting other cuisines, Bridges said.
That wasn't necessarily the case at Bagram because the dining facility concentrated on the palates of TF Thunder Soldiers, he said.
Running a quality dining facility costs a pretty penny, said Bridges. Approximately 30 percent of the Army's dough goes toward sustaining the Soldiers, he said.
Naturally, the food is the biggest piece of the pie when it comes to the expenses involved in running a dining facility, Bridges said, but non-food items gobble up a good portion of a kitchen's budget.
"Out here, we use flatware, paper cups, paper plates and to-go boxes. All those are an additional expense," he said.
The best way to trim some fat in the budget is good planning. Planning a meal begins with an approximated head count, he said. Supply and demand should be equal.
"If we make it, and it doesn't get consumed, it was wasted. Therefore, money was wasted, and the government is not into wasting money," Bridges said.
Over the years, the tables have turned, and the government has been sending more and more contracted companies into the mix.
"Now we're in a contracted environment. The Army has decided to go that direction, because, in the long run, it's cheaper, even when factoring in the contractors' salaries."
Charles Boling, the dining facility manager at Tarin Kowt is not one to mince his words. "(We are) always looking for ways to save the U.S. government money," he said.
One way the government can save some clams is by installing hand dryers, Boling said.
"These hand dryers will reduce U.S. government expenditure on procurement, transportation, storage and usage costs of paper towels," he said.
While budgeting is important to the meal, dining facility managers must plan ahead, because what really cooks a kitchen manager's goose is when a delivery does not come in. It is a dicey situation that could leave the entire staff floundering at the last minute " a recipe for disaster. It can wreak havoc for a kitchen crew scrambling to produce a meal.
"The average time from ordering to delivery on site is seven to nine days," Boling said. "Our DFACs consistently maintain 14 to 21 days of supply on hand in case there are problems with deliveries. If we were to run out of food, it would have a detrimental effect on the morale of our war fighters and their ability to perform their essential missions."
Morale is everything for deployed Soldiers.
"When Soldiers don't get fed, especially those outside the wire," Bridges said, "it's a problem. When those guys come back from (the field), and they come to these facilities, they deserve a good meal."
Teamwork in a kitchen is just as important as teamwork on the battlefield.
"You cannot do it by yourself," Bridges said. "I have yet to see one person, in my military career, do everything by himself " run a headcount station, run the administrative section, do the night baking, prepare the meals, serve the meals and clean all the kitchen equipment. It's just impossible."
"There are many facets to a DFAC team, and unless they all pull together to meet the DFAC's aim, our war fighters would suffer," said Boling.
Too often people complain about the foul cooking they experienced when they were deployed, but here at Tarin Kowt, the cooks take great pride in what they do, and the fruits of their labor do not go unnoticed.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Sickles of Kinnesaw, Wash., is the detachment tactical operations officer for the Sugar Bears (Company B, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment), out of Anchorage, Alaska. He has deployed seven times, and is an old salt when it comes to deployment food.
"I've had to eat all kinds of food during deployments, sometimes nothing but (meals, ready-to-eat)," he said. "In Pakistan, we had chicken at every meal. I got burned out on that real quick. You'd be amazed what I've had to eat during deployments."
You won't see Sickles turn up his nose at the food here. He said he has no beef with it, because, compared to MREs, the dining facility at Tarin Kowt simply can't be beat.
One thing Sickles said is extraordinary at the Tarin Kowt dining facility is the ice cream. He said he intends to milk that for as long as he can.
Until next time, chow!