Keeping Perspective at the Strong Europe Cafe

Photo By Sgt. Evan Ruchotzke | Sergeant 1st Class Alexander McClellan and Spc. Joanna Benge of the 529th Military Police Company demonstrate new protective measures at the Strong Europe Cafe in Wiesbaden, Germany, April 1, 2020. New guidance ensures that soldiers no longer handle Common Access Cards to minimize the risk of contamination. (US Army Photo by Sgt. Evan Ruchotzke)



Story by Sgt. Evan Ruchotzke 

U.S. Army Europe   

WIESBADEN, Germany — “If I can get through one person every day, somehow, someway, then I feel like I’ve done my job,” Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Smith of Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army Europe said.

Smith, whose 14-year career has taken him from Fort Bragg to the Pentagon, currently works as the culinary manager at the Strong Europe Cafe Dining Facility on Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany.

“None of us were planning for COVID,” Smith said, “so, really we’re in uncharted waters on this. I really, sincerely, appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to navigate through all of this.”

A recent addition to the DFAC staff, Smith arrived in January after serving as an Advanced Individual Training instructor at Fort Lee, Virginia. He said the dining facility has made a number of changes to help ensure customer safety during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

Among the biggest changes is the transition to take-away only operations. The dining facility now only offers food on a to-go basis, with the dining room closed.

“We’ve got more than a few units who are sending Soldiers to pick up carryout boxes for the whole unit,” Smith said.

He said minimizing the number of individuals in the dining facility goes a long way towards meeting the Army Public Health Department’s guidance in reducing the spread of the virus.

“Two Soldiers coming in is a lot safer than thirty,” Smith said, “so if I have to do a little extra work to make a hundred take out boxes then that’s the least of my worries. There’s so many out there that have it worse than us but the main thing I preach in this building is perspective — probably hourly.”

Other precautions include laying down markers to indicate proper social distancing while waiting for food, personnel monitoring to ensure handwashing standards are met, and the removal of any devices that require patrons to touch the machine directly.

“We took out the coffee, which probably didn’t make me popular,” Smith said. “But, hey, perspective.”

Pvt. 1st Class Jose Rivas, who works under Smith said more than anything else he hopes people appreciate the hard work the staff puts in.

Rivas said he hopes to open his own restaurant after finishing his first contract. The El Salvador-native said the job has been harder than expected, but he is happy to get the opportunity to work in Europe.

“It’s exciting being here, but it’s hard being away from home,” Rivas said.

“The day goes by fast, but it’s hard work,” Rivas said. “Working out front you hear people complain that they don’t like something. That we serve the same thing too much. That they don’t like the food. It kinda hurts.”

“I hope people come forward to make the DFAC better,” he said, “because we’re putting our hearts into it out here.”

“Customer feedback is so important,” Smith said. “Good and bad, we need to hear it. We all have a buy-in here.”

“We’re going to start doing monthly meetings with service members to get feedback.”

Smith said he hopes with more chances for a conversation, he will be able to offer more opportunities to improve service member’s dining experience.

He also said he hopes to communicate effectively with the community on a day-to-day basis.

“The biggest thing I want to push is that we’re on Facebook,” Smith said. “We want everyone to have the most up-to-date information. We’re still building it up, but any major changes will be put out there.”

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