By Staff Sgt. Mike Alberts, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public AffairsApril 16, 2010
"An Army travels on its stomach." Famous words credited to Napoleon Bonaparte, the early-19th century French military and political leader.
Napoleon understood that morale, espirit de corps, discipline and the physical condition of a fighting force depends on suitable provisions. So, too, do today's Army commanders who are charged to provide their Soldiers with quality subsistence in a variety of environments and tactical situations.
At Contingency Operating Base Speicher's South Dining Facility located near Tikrit, Iraq, that charge is being carried out by a team of about a dozen Task Force Wings' Soldiers of the 209th Aviation Support Battalion, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, eight civilian employees and almost 200 international food service subcontractors since the 25th CAB commenced operations, here, Oct. 1, 2009.
One million eight hundred thousand meals and counting ....
The South DFAC provides four meals a day in-house: breakfast, lunch, dinner and a midnight meal for those who work unconventional hours. According to Master Sgt. Derek Rivers, food service supervisor and noncommissioned officer-in-charge, 25th CAB, his team serves 12,000 meals a day.
Half of those 12,000 meals are delivered and served off-site at five remote dining locations on COB Speicher. Another 600 or so meals are prepared as "to-go" plates for Soldiers, other military servicemembers and civilians, not to mention the periodic "special meal requests" which include unit food requests for cook-outs, morale, welfare and recreation events, and other unit organizational days and special events.
The primary mission is simple: serve Soldiers healthy food in accordance with The Army Food Program and Operating Procedures for the Army Food Program. Accomplishing the mission, however, is far from simple. It requires the cooperative effort of Soldiers, civilian Kellogg, Brown & Root food service employees and a host of international subcontractor workers attending to the smallest detail of every dish, every meal, every day.
The Soldiers involved in the South DFAC operations are all military trained food service specialists. Though less instrumental in preparing food as they did back at Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii, they remain well aware that their effort is directly linked to their comrades' health and morale.
According to Sgt. Sean Wroten, facility NCO, 209th ASB, 25th CAB, the Soldier's primary role at the South DFAC is 'force protection' which entails escorting and guarding food transportation vehicles, monitoring food storing and preparation, and supervising all aspects of food service. But the New Orleans, La., native explained that his motivation to serve healthy meals for the welfare of Soldiers is no different now that he's deployed.
"[Whether force protection or serving meals directly to Soldiers], we do it because we need to make sure all Soldiers receive not only high quality food, but also food that's safe to consume. And we all have a sense of urgency about our mission," said Sgt. Wroten.
"Food is not only a necessity but a morale boost. It's something Soldiers look forward to. My Soldiers understand that the meal we provide may be the only thing that a Soldier has to look forward to on that particular day. We won't fail the mission because we don't forget that."
Specialist Erica Cravalho, a Mesa, Ariz., native, is one of Sgt. Wroten's Soldiers and shares her NCO's commitment to her comrades.
"The priority is to get every Soldier fed every day," said Spc. Cravalho. "Especially important to me is that the Soldiers at the remote sites get the same quality and choice as those that eat [at the facility]. We consider it our duty to bring the same [in-house] dining experience to Soldiers in the field. We take pride in it, and I think that's one of the reasons we're successful."
But of course the Soldiers are only part of the story. Two critical aspects of operations that must be carefully coordinated are the eight KBR employees, as well as the almost 200 food service subcontractors.
Mr. Coley Harmon is the South DFAC KBR food service supervisor responsible for ensuring that all aspects of food service and quality control standards are met, among other things. Mr. Keith Wijeratna, a Sri Lanka native and South DFAC location manager, Gulf Catering Company, supervises the contracting staff engaged in preparing and serving food in accordance with applicable health and safety standards, and is responsible for aspects of DFAC administration, cost management, safety management and staff training programs.
Both gentlemen agreed that nothing gets done unless it gets done as a team.
"Our success is due to a combination of the Soldiers, KBR and the [subcontractors] all caring about the Soldiers and all working together as one team," said Mr. Harmon. "Whether it is a special meal request, a "to-go" plate, or remote shipment, we discuss it, we analyze it and we make sure the Soldier gets fed properly."
Mr. Harmon's counterpart, Mr. Wijeratna, agreed that the key success has been teamwork in all aspects of the mission.
"We are there for each other to assist, not to criticize. We are there for each other to help, not finger-point," said Mr. Wijeratna. "We all respect the American Soldier and I always dreamed of working on a team with them. We have become like brothers. We treat each other like family, and that's the key to making these complex operations so successful."