The readiness of nourishing fares is in stark contrast to what is available at Sheppard AFB today, where four dining facilities provide more than 10,000 meals daily for Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and international students that consistently ranks as the best in the Air Force. None of those meals, however, reach a serving station without the groundwork that is done at the base’s Central Preparation Kitchen, an operation that preps vegetables, meats, sauces and more.
Kenneth Hamilton, manager of the prep kitchen, has been part of the base’s food services venture for about 31 years, first as a dishwasher before climbing the ranks of management. He summed up the prep kitchen’s mission very succinctly: They serve the people who serve the Airmen.
As a former dining facility supervisor for more than 10 years, he said he knows and appreciates what the prep kitchen offers in their role of feeding thousands of hungry men and women daily.
“We take a lot of stress off of them,” he said. “Some of our menus are very extensive.”
Hamilton provided two examples of work at the prep kitchen making life a little easier at the D-Facs. The first was getting cubed steak ready for chicken fried steak that requires dining facility staff to dip the meat in batter and then into the fryer. The next was cutting and trimming the fat off of 15-pound chunks of beef that would later be used for stir fry.
Employees at the facility, employed by Work Services Corp. in Wichita Falls, Texas, also prepare the majority of vegetables that will be consumed at the dining facility. With the aid of several automated contraptions, hand-powered slicers or old-fashioned knives, personnel make short work of fresh vegetables to be used as ingredients for a variety of dishes to salad bars, wraps and burgers.
On an average week, the Central Preparation Kitchen will go through about 2,000 pounds of onions; 1,500 pounds of tomatoes; 700 pounds of green bell peppers; 500 pounds each of broccoli, cauliflower, squash and zucchini; 2,500 servings of chicken; and 1,500 servings each of ground beef and pork chops.
The slick-operating machine is part of the food services organization that has won the coveted John L. Hennessy Trophy Awards, an honor that recognizes the best in Armed Forces food services, three of the past five years. Hamilton said the uniformity of the daily menu among the base’s dining facility helps to continue that trend, but it all begins with an Air Force Form 129, which lists the number and weight of ingredients or items needed at the D-Facs.
“If they’re going to feed 1,000, they more or less order what they need for 1,000 people,” he said. “The Air Force (Form) 129 is the roadmap.”
Hamilton said the daily list of ingredients and number of meals prepared can vary just as much as the number of trainees on Sheppard, but the professionalism and commitment of WSC employees never change. That is seen in the remarkable longevity of many employees ranging from more than 40 years of continued employment to less than 10 years.
To Nguyen, a senior cook at the prep kitchen, began working in food services at Sheppard in November 1975 in a bakery between buildings 716 and 726. He later moved to his current position in central prep when the bakery closed.
Nguyen said he enjoys working with food and he has seen a lot of changes over the years including locations and recipes. After 40 years of service, though, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
“If my health allows me, I’ll still continue,” he said.
In addition to prepping for meals for the “big kids,” Hamilton said the Central Preparation Kitchen for the past several years has gone through the “delicate process” of preparing daily three meals and a snack for children ranging from infants and toddlers to adolescents at the Child Development and Youth centers.
“The Air Force wanted us to do it and that’s what we’re here to do,” he said. “We took that on. That’s what we’re here to do – food.”
Preparation for the day’s menus begins earlier than most other missions on Sheppard. Hamilton said he has employees at the site as early as 3 a.m. to receive shipments of perishable and non-perishable items. Food preparation begins at 7 a.m. and continues until 4 p.m., Sunday through Friday. The kitchen is closed on Saturdays. The Central Preparation Kitchen services lunch, dinner, “midnight chow” and some items for breakfast