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Team helps troops travel on stomachs

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM – Staff Sgt. Steven Bell and Airman 1st Class Idris Royal stock the dry storage warehouse. Approximately $2,500,000 of subsistence is received and prepared monthly in support of the base population. Operation Iraqi Freedom is the multinational coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and end the regime of Saddam Hussein. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM – Staff Sgt. Steven Bell and Airman 1st Class Idris Royal stock the dry storage warehouse. Approximately $2,500,000 of subsistence is received and prepared monthly in support of the base population. Operation Iraqi Freedom is the multinational coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and end the regime of Saddam Hussein. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM –- Inside a containerized deployable kitchen, Staff Sgt. Theresa Schaible mixes ingredients for Sloppy Joes. The 386th Expeditionary Services Squadron food services members feed thousands of military members several times daily. The kitchen always stays open, even in Alarm conditions, so that food will be available afterward. Operation Iraqi Freedom is the multinational coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and end the regime of Saddam Hussein. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM –- Inside a containerized deployable kitchen, Staff Sgt. Theresa Schaible mixes ingredients for Sloppy Joes. The 386th Expeditionary Services Squadron food services members feed thousands of military members several times daily. The kitchen always stays open, even in Alarm conditions, so that food will be available afterward. Operation Iraqi Freedom is the multinational coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and end the regime of Saddam Hussein. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM –- Staff Sgt. Phyllis Jones and Airman 1st Class Hari Torres prepare turkey ala king for a Camp Chariot dinner meal. The services squadron food services flight supported a base surge of 590 percent in January. Sixty-three service members worked in food service before hostilities started and that number has risen to 83 members currently working in food services. Operation Iraqi Freedom is the multinational coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and end the regime of Saddam Hussein. (U.S.  Air Force photo)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM –- Staff Sgt. Phyllis Jones and Airman 1st Class Hari Torres prepare turkey ala king for a Camp Chariot dinner meal. The services squadron food services flight supported a base surge of 590 percent in January. Sixty-three service members worked in food service before hostilities started and that number has risen to 83 members currently working in food services. Operation Iraqi Freedom is the multinational coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and end the regime of Saddam Hussein. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (AFPN) -- Underscoring the value of a well-fed force, Napoleon once asserted, "An army travels on its stomach."

Despite a rapid and massive buildup for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 386th Expeditionary Services Squadron's food services team didn't flinch at the task of feeding thousands of coalition bellies for their own war travels. The staff achieved their mission with minimal interruption despite an enormous spike in the total base populace and the wartime conditions.

According to Maj. David Andino-Aquino, squadron commander, during a peak 45-day period that saw a 590 percent base population surge, the food services staff and its contractor crews planned, prepared and served more than 527,000 hot meals. They did that while operating three dining facilities - Desert Winds, The Rock and the Camp Chariot dining tent.

"I couldn't be more proud of the extraordinary performance our services people have maintained since our arrival," Andino-Aquino said.

The squadron's plate got heavier when more than a dozen Iraqi missile threats and subsequent "alarm red" conditions forced everyone on base to seek immediate shelter in bunkers.

"No matter what the alarm condition is - yellow, red or black - our mission still goes on 100 percent," said Staff Sgt. Steven Bell, food warehouse manager.

Master Sgt. Cheryl Dugan, food services superintendent, said, "Our cooks would run to the bunkers, and 20-30 minutes later, they're open again for business. Without their dedication, that wouldn't happen, so I'm very proud of all of them."

During a period when contract crews were not allowed on base, the food staff gained 15 members when other services functions, including the recreation center and lodging office, were temporarily halted.

"These people jumped in with no stoppage in service, except during the alarm reds," said Dugan. "In fact, we added one meal, our midnight meal, to give us four (hot meals). They were very well organized, especially considering they had to think about safety issues, their uniforms, running to the bunkers and still working to get meals out, and they really did a darn good job."

While food preparation is obviously a major part of the staff's duty day, Dugan and Bell agreed one of their busiest operations takes place inside the warehouse. At almost any time, the warehouse is a bustling hub of activity. The warehouse contains massive dry storage and freezer sections, stacked ceiling-high with food items.

"I always tell Sergeant Bell, the heart and soul of this food service operation is his warehouse. Everything comes in there, and he's the first check, the first (quality assurance) for all the items.

The warehouse is no place for people allergic to fast-paced, heavy labor.

"We order all the subsistence that comes in, we inventory, we issue to the cooks, we unload trucks, distribute items around the base to the different dining facility locations, plus we're in charge of keeping on hand and distributing to agencies a large supply of water, as well as doing the same for our MRE warehouse," said Bell.

"It's a big organizational thing, doing the first-in, first-out rotation of all food that comes in. Since I do have a large supply of food that does come into my warehouse, we're always removing and restacking things, so it's a very physical, very demanding job that myself and my airmen do," Bell said.

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