EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska – Sailors call it the galley, Marines eat at the mess hall, soldiers go to the chow hall, our allied partners from Japan say Shokudo and our counterparts from Korea dine at the Sik Dang, but everyone participating in RED FLAG-Alaska fills their bellies at the Two Seasons Dining Facility.
Regardless of what you call it, the DFAC here dishes out more than 2,400 meals per day during RF-A 13-3, which is swollen from their normal rate of around 400.
“If a warfighter doesn’t have a happy belly, they aren’t a happy person,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Lemieux, 354th Force Support Squadron food services superintendent. “This is just what we do. We are here to fuel the fight.”
At meal time, the line for food will extend out the door while tables fill and empty until every customer is fed. Lemieux said the food preparation starts at 4 a.m. and the last dirty dish isn’t washed until 2 a.m. the next day.
“This is a constant effort that takes extreme teamwork,” he said. “We partner with a civilian contractor to make sure our facility stays extremely clean and efficient. Without the whole team, this mission would fail.”
As 700 salads are boxed, hundreds of chicken breasts are baked and burgers are grilled, the sound of mixers rarely stops making other dishes to be devoured. However, the process isn’t just about making mass amounts of food; there’s a great effort to make it look good.
“People eat with their eyes,” said Airman 1st Class Braxton Martin, 354th FSS food service cook. “We could rush through cooking and put out ‘garbage’ all day long, but it’s important to cook to satisfy the customer.”
The fare doesn’t just end up on the tables inside the DFAC. Some service members aren’t able to make the meal rush, so the cooks assemble more than 250 boxed meals throughout the day to nourish these absent patrons.
Lemieux said looking in the process of feeding the masses may seem seamless, yet it comes with challenges. Their dishwasher can only keep up with normal production and regular dinnerware must be replaced with the influx of food preparation containers.
To overcome this, disposable utensils and dishes are used. Also, patrons are asked to help with the workload by bussing their own tables.
Although there are long hours and challenges to overcome, Lemieux and his team remain in good spirits throughout the exercise.
“We are individuals that come together as a team to produce a great product,” he said. “With any sort of job there is a customer and we are able to see instant gratification with our happy patrons. That’s our reward.”