By Spc. Chris McCannMarch 22, 2007
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq (Army News Service, March 22, 2007) - After months of construction and waiting, the largest dining facility on Iraq's Victory Base Complex opened to cheers and a flood of Soldiers and civilians March 20.
The executive officer for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Lt. Col. Frank Andrews, thanked Kellogg, Brown and Root employee, 2nd BCT food-service Soldiers and others who assisted in the construction and opening of the new facility. Andrews also cut the ceremonial ribbon stretched in front of the building.
"It's a significant event for the brigade," Andrews said of the facility's opening. "The previous dining facility couldn't handle the number of troops."
The camp's old dining facility - a wooden building with several attached trailers - was intended to serve for six months, but Soldiers used it for over three years.
The new building is expansive - a critical quality in view of the ongoing "surge" of troops in the Baghdad area, Andrews said.
"One of the great things about the U.S. Army is how they spare no expense to support the Soldiers," he said. "Even in Vietnam, they were flying ice cream to the forward operating bases."
Ice cream - several pallets of it, in fact - is just one of the new dining facility's offerings. With about 300 workers, including third-country nationals from places like Sri Lanka, American civilians and Soldiers, the facility can provide more food, faster. Six one-megawatt generators power the building, which has been serving about 9,000 people at each meal during its first week of operation.
The workers, used to the cramped conditions and limited menu at Camp Striker's earlier dining facility, are getting used to the place.
"They've jumped up to a 9,000 man-per-meal DFAC," said Chief Warrant Officer Shawn Lashbrook, 2nd BCT food-service manager. "They're a little overwhelmed."
Lashbrook plans to expand the menu, adding to the potato, pizza and pasta bars sections with stir-fry, gyros, fruit and international foods.
"We'll give (the workers) a month or so, and then start bringing those on-line," he said. "They need to get the basics down first."
The facility also fills to-go orders for units heading out into sector for the day, and large, insulated containers of food called "mermites" to be used at field dining facilities.
Christian LeMoine, a native of Antwerp, Belgium, and a classically trained chef, is now a contractor with KBR and is the dining facility manager on Camp Striker.
"I speak four languages, and none of them are ones the workers speak," LeMoine said, laughing.
The employees of the Gulf Catering Company hail from many countries, and the dining facility's kitchen seems to be a well-placed reference to Iraq's historical tower of Babel. Hindi, Urdu, Nepalese, Tamil, Bahasa, Tagalog and Arabic vie with the U.S. military's standard English and Spanish to be heard in the building. The employees still know enough English, however, to serve the Soldiers and accomplish their missions.
Sgt. William Wary, a team leader with the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd BCT's personal security detachment, said he liked the changes.
"It's pretty nice here," he said during the grand opening lunch. "The food is better prepared than at the old facility, and the T-bone steak is definitely great. It's very open and inviting - it's great for morale."
(Spc. Chris McCann writes for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Public Affairs.)