JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, AK, UNITED STATES
Story by Senior Airman Javier Alvarez
The first Soldier arrived at 4:15 a.m. His bleach-white uniform, like a beacon in the predawn void, outshone the late-winter frost at the Gold Rush Inn parking lot at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
By 4:30 they were all in formation – 10 Soldiers, in immaculate chef’s outfits. Food safety thermometers in pen-like protectors adorned their sleeves. Their coyote-brown combat boots, while seemingly out of place, made sense – on this day, they’re fighting hunger.
Theirs is a difficult task. In two and a half hours, the Soldiers, alongside 13 civilian counterparts, will dice, flake, fry, grate, bake, mix, mince, peel, pare, shred, steam, toss, stir and stew the most important meal of the day.
“On average we serve 350 people for in-house breakfast,” said Sgt. 1st Class Donnie Arnone, nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, dining facility assistant manager. “On any given day we can feed up to 1,500 people from this location.”
By 4:45 the shift duties are assigned and without hesitation the group disperses.
The kitchen is a calculated maze. Every inch is accounted for – expertly designed and utilized for speed and performance. Success in the kitchen is in part due to the prep work done by the previous night’s crew.
The day’s recipes, crafted at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, at Fort Lee, Virginia, are mastered and incorporated at various Army posts nationwide. A meal enjoyed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will have the same taste of home.
“During the week we go through 45 dozen whole eggs and 750 liquid eggs,” Arnone said.
By 5:30 a.m., while not quite a sauna, certain parts of the kitchen have shot up twenty degrees. Used pots, pans and trays have begun to pile high.
“There are trigger factors which can motivate or make things go wrong,” said Kevin Moore, 673d Force Support Squadron food program manager. “There’s an old saying – the three things you don’t mess with are a troop’s money, food and family.
“Providing a good meal sets the tone for the day,” he said. “Whether it’s good or bad can be determined by their breakfast. And we here try to provide the best service possible.”
By 7:15 a.m. there is a much slower tempo in the kitchen. With most of the assigned tasks complete, some take a short break before the doors open and the early morning madness begins. Some fill coffee cups in hopes of seizing that next bit of energy for the madness to come.
“The dining facility is the best place for breakfast,” Arnone said. “We have everything and anything anybody could want. Once the Wilderness Inn re-opens, we’ll be able to incorporate all the specialty bars we’re not able to host here.”
By 7:29 a scattered group of service members in physical training uniforms and Army Combat Uniforms wait for the Gold Rush Inn doors to open. In a minute they’ll invade the DFAC and almost instantly the syncopated clinking of silverware on hard ceramic plates will fill the room.
For Pfc. Joshua Messerschmidt, a Soldier with 2/377th PFAR, breakfast at the DFAC makes sense. He lives in the barracks and doesn’t have time to cook most mornings.
“Breakfast is by far my favorite meal here,” he said. “It’s consistent. You know what you’re going to get, which is reassuring.”
Messerschmidt sits in the dining area of the Gold Rush Inn. A half-eaten order of scrambled eggs and syrup smothered hotcakes are on his plate just waiting to be devoured.
At 7:31 the kitchen staff are hard at work filling and refilling serving trays. In a corner of the kitchen a cook dices chicken breast for lunch. Chicken tortilla soup is on the day’s menu.
Feeding the Army is a never ending job. Army cooks at JBER will continue to attack hunger where they can. Three meals a day, every day.