By Master Sgt. Brian Davidson
447th Air Expeditionary Group
SATHER AIR BASE, Iraq — Sather Air Base is the busiest aerial port in Iraq, moving hundreds of American military members, civilian contractors, distinguished visitors and coalition forces every day as they travel in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
For many of these travelers, the layover at this small military base on the west side of Baghdad International Airport is just one stop in a long and tiring journey. Airmen from the 447th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron have been working late to help make these travelers' time at the Sather passenger terminal a little more pleasant and a lot less hungry.
Shortly after deploying to Iraq in September, Tech. Sgt. Lauralee Corona was at the passenger terminal late one night to greet her incoming squadron commander. As she waited in the crowded terminal, two Soldiers approached her and asked where they could get something to eat. It was nearly 2 a.m., and she realized that unlike most airports, there really weren't sufficient services available to feed the late-night travelers.
As a the non-commissioned officer in charge of food services for the base, Sergeant Corona decided that something had to be done to offer meals to the hundreds of people that transit through the terminal.
With help from her new squadron commander, and support from the 447th Air Expeditionary Group commander, she began wading through the red tape and paperwork that would make her plan a reality.
Her research showed that attempts to create a meal service at the passenger terminal had been made in previous years, but all had failed for various reasons. The food service team drew on lessons learned from those previous attempts and began brainstorming a way to succeed where others had not.
"There's nothing new about the idea of providing food services in military passenger terminals for people traveling to and from deployed locations around the world," Sergeant Corona said. "So we knew there was some method available for feeding people here."
There is a dining facility near the air terminal that feeds the base population and travelers during regular meal times, midnight chow is also available, but travelers arriving between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., the peak flight hours, had to go hungry.
The food services team decided that these were the target hours for their chow service and dubbed it the Grab-n-Go.
The original plan was to use an existing tent near the terminal to offer the Grab-n-Go service, but it was quickly scrapped when base engineers explained that the tent was going to be taken down in the near future as part of an aerial port expansion.
Momentum for the project grew, and members of the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron struck on the idea of turning a small, unused trailer into the new food service facility.
Sergeant Corona appointed Airman 1st Class Justin Harris as the new Grab-n-Go supervisor. With the approval and support from Army food services, the Grab-n-Go service began to take shape.
While the young Airman is only a food services apprentice, Sergeant Corona knew he was capable of handling the assignment. Both she and Airman Harris are deployed from the 100th Force Support Squadron at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, so she was familiar with his abilities and dedication.
Airman Harris was anxious to get the service started, and wasn't willing to wait for the trailer to be completed, so he arranged to borrow a van to serve as the interim Grab-n-Go.
On Oct. 27, at 1 a.m., Airman Harris parked his borrowed van next to the passenger terminal and began serving sandwiches, coffee, soda and chips. By morning, he had served nearly 250 meals.
"I was surprised what a morale boost a few sandwiches and something to drink was to the Soldiers that first night," Airman Harris said. "And things have just been getting better."
Every night at 10 p.m., Airman Harris and the food services team prepare the night's meals in the main dining facility kitchen before transporting everything to the newly-completed Grab-n-Go trailer.
Word of the service has spread to forward operating bases and combat outposts throughout Iraq, and now many nighttime travelers arriving at the Sather passenger terminal look for Airman Harris and their own Grab-n-Go meal.
"When things are slow I walk through the terminal to talk to people and let them know we have food available," Airman Harris said. "Sometimes the Soldiers don't come out immediately, but when I explain that there is no charge for the meals, they just follow their stomachs to the trailer."
The current menu now includes an assortment of sandwiches, hot and cold beverages, cereal, boxed pastries, chips and even croissants.
Sergeant Corona explained that there are many nights when they have to re-stock the trailer, so workers remain at the main dining facility kitchen to prepare additional items when needed.
"The people coming through here have often been traveling for days," Sergeant Corona said. "The Soldiers are loaded down with body armor, weapons, back packs and all their gear. They are tired and hungry and some of them even start eating before we have a chance to bag their food up for them."
The food service team continues to serve more than 200 meals each night, and often continue serving past 5 a.m. "As long as we have food and there hungry people, we will keep serving," Airman Harris said.
This work, Sather Airmen work late to feed the force, by MSgt Brian Davidson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.