FORT MCCOY, WI, UNITED STATES
Fort McCoy Food Program Manager Andy Pisney has been involved with the Army’s culinary trade for a long time in both stateside locations and deployed areas. In 2020, he took his skills back overseas to serve as a deployed Army civilian at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
Pisney, who works at the Fort McCoy Logistics Readiness Center Food Services Division, has been the food program manager on post since 2008. Each year, he and his division, along with the rest of the Fort McCoy team, have contributed to the installation’s role in preparing military forces for their warfighting mission.
“If you were around Fort McCoy prior to 2011, you no doubt witnessed this mission firsthand as Fort McCoy personnel helped prepare thousands of service members deploying for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom,” Pisney said. “During the early 2000s, Fort McCoy was one of the largest mobilization/demobilization bases in the military. And Fort McCoy has a long and proud history of being a mobilization base for every major conflict since the base was established back in 1909.”
But before 2020, Pisney had never deployed as an Army civilian employee. He said he was offered an opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan as a civilian and support the warfighting mission as a food-service specialist.
“It was a difficult decision to leave my family and co-workers in a job that I truly love and have a deep passion for,” Pisney said. “Some still question the sanity of that decision to this day.”
Pisney said he had to complete pre-deployment training before heading to Afghanistan. For his prep, he went to Camp Atterbury, Ind., in January 2020.
“All Department of Defense (DOD) civilians, except Air Force civilians, go to Camp Atterbury to get ready for a deployment,” Pisney said. “It was a quick two weeks with a lot of administrative processing, gear issue, classroom training, and weapons qualification culminating with a four-day training exercise designed to let you interact with actual Afghans in stressful scenarios. We each got to take turns being the ‘American leader,’ and I remember I got chewed out by the local Afghan ‘deputy police chief” for my perceived impatience to his security and personnel issues. Overall, it was fun and very informative.”
After leaving Indiana, Pisney said he flew to Kuwait with stops in Baltimore, Md.; Germany; and Turkey.
“I spent 10 days at Camp Arifjan (Kuwait) waiting for a flight to Afghanistan,” Pisney said. “Finally I caught a C-17 flight to Kandahar Airfield. We landed at Kandahar around midnight, and I remember the temperature being around 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside.”
Pisney said Kandahar, Afghanistan, is 600-plus acres of desert real estate surrounding an international airport the United States built for the Afghans back in the 1960s.
“Everything there is the color of sand,” Pisney said. “When it rains in the spring, it pours several inches in a matter of minutes. When the rain stops in late May, it gets up to 110 degrees during the day and stays that way through September.”
Pisney said his mission at Kandahar was to act as the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contracting officer’s representative (COR) for dining facilities and ensure the food service was safe and high standard for all forces deployed to the airfield.
“When I first got there, there were more than 10,000 personnel on Kandahar Airfield being supported by four large dining facility operations,” Pisney said.
Pandemic causes change
Like in the United States and throughout the world, Pisney said he and his co-workers started planning for COVID-19 safety and mitigation in early March 2020.
“Then the whole thing kicked off on March 15 when we started feeding people with only to-go containers with no self-service — something they are still doing all over Afghanistan to this day,” Pisney said. “We also started the quarantine and isolation feeding missions — something that would increase up to around 1,000 people per meal, three times per day.”
Also due to COVID-19, DOD issued a stop-movement order in March, and Pisney saw himself taking on additional duties.
“I soon took on a couple of new jobs as the director of logistics and the COR for our day-labor contract,” Pisney said. “The stop-movement order stranded several of our organizational personnel in the states, so we all had to take on more responsibilities. These additional duties kept me very busy and lasted until the end of June.”
Pisney also said one unfortunate effect of the stop-movement order was all rest and recuperation (R&R) visits were canceled. Civilians normally get three two-week R&Rs back home during a year tour when deploying to Afghanistan. “Due to COVID, I got a straight tour with no leave,” he said.
Pisney said he learned a lot at Kandahar, both in and out of food service, while there.
“I can ship gear and weapons anywhere, rig containers and forklifts on Air Force pallets for flight, and I can coordinate for special Air Force teams to come to take down or put up large modular vehicle maintenance tents,” he said.
Food service overall was very good at Kandahar, Pisney added.
“They fed upwards of 3,000 people per meal in each one of the dining facilities, and they made it look so smooth,” Pisney said. “I love good diner flow, and it was one of their strong points. I made a lot of good friends too, including one dining facility manager nicknamed the ‘Kosovo Cowboy.’”
That facility manager is Arben Hyseni.
“He has been a dining facility fixture at Kandahar since 2016, and he is the most customer-focused manager I have ever met in food service,” Pisney said. “Arben always wore his trademark cowboy hat and spent the majority of every meal out talking to the customers who came into his dining facility. He loves food service, and he is very good at taking care of customers with quality food service.”
Moving over to Bagram
In late July 2020, Pisney said his supervisor asked him to go to Bagram Airfield and assist with food service there.
“They had a food-service specialist slot there that wasn’t filled,” Pisney said. “Bagram at that time also had 10,000-plus personnel being supported by four large dining facilities, and they had a different LOGCAP food-service contractor than Kandahar.”
Pisney said moving north to Bagram from Kandahar “wasn’t too bad.”
“The worst part about it was the flight there,” Pisney said. “Bagram is about a 90-minute flight from Kandahar, but the planes don’t go directly there. To get there, you have to ride a C-130 Hercules for over 7 hours while it stops at every military base in Afghanistan dropping off or loading cargo and passengers.”
Once he got to Bagram, Pisney said he quickly assessed the dining facility operations and was appointed as the COR there.
“Bagram’s dining facility operations pretty much mirrored Kandahar’s,” Pisney said. “One issue that Bagram was having at that time was the numerous food-service personnel who were in quarantine. During my first visit, there were more than 75 food service personnel in quarantine, and some of them had been in quarantine for over 30 days. It got so bad at the time that two of the outer sites closed their dining facilities down and put all their food-service personnel in quarantine for three weeks. That created another issue of feeding their personnel, so we had to prepare and fly one hot meal per day out to two different locations for more than 1,000 people.”
At this time, Pisney said he started holding dual positions as he kept his COR duties at Kandahar, as well.
“I met with my commander, and he agreed that I could be the food-service specialist at both locations until I redeployed,” Pisney said. “Over the next three months, I spent about three weeks at one location, and then I would fly to the other location so I could accomplish all my duties at both areas.”
As he was getting closer to finishing his deployment, there was an ongoing drawdown of deployed personnel, as well, he said.
“Due to the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement signed in February 2020, several installations in Afghanistan started drawing down over the late summer. Kandahar was one of those bases.”
Pisney said he’s glad to be back to working at Fort McCoy and supporting the mission of the installation. Bu he also said he learned some new tricks from the deployment.
“Believe it or not, this 35-year military food service veteran has learned a lot more about food service, and there will be positive changes implemented to our already top-level Fort McCoy food-service program,” Pisney said.
Fort McCoy’s motto is to be the “Total Force Training Center.” Located in the heart of the upper Midwest, Fort McCoy is the only U.S. Army installation in Wisconsin.
The installation has provided support and facilities for the field and classroom training of more than 100,000 military personnel from all services nearly every year since 1984.