FORT LEE, Va. – “Culinary” is in the title of meal preparers for the Army, Navy and Coast Guard. The Marine Corps, leaning more toward tradition, dubs the same job as “food service specialist.”
Then comes the Air Force with a broader and less telling name for those tasked with feeding troops: “services specialist.”
One might be inclined to think the handle is the service branch’s attempt to distinguish itself from others. However, that’s not the case, according to Master Sgt. Monica Snow, Services Academy flight chief with the Quartermaster School’s Joint Culinary Center of Excellence.
Rather, the name is more of an accurate accounting for all the duties services specialists must perform – to include satisfying the appetites of the rank-and-file.
“I believe we are the heart of the Air Force,” said Snow, after describing all the job encompasses. “We’re the pillars of the operation. We’re not out there working on the planes or flight lines, but we are a critical element of ground support, and I think that is important too.”
Services not only consists of food service – arguably the most important element – but also fitness and readiness, said Staff Sgt. Thomas Monte, services instructor.
Furthermore, each component comprises several job titles or subcategories of work. For instance, readiness includes mortuary affairs, lodging and entertainment. Airmen working in the fitness arena can be subject to organizing intramural sports programs; teaching injury prevention; administering fitness tests; or operating fitness centers.
Considering all that has to be covered, the course is relatively short – a little over five weeks. It graduates 1,300 Airmen yearly, said Monte.
Airman Andres Blanco-Pino will add his name to the list of graduates in three weeks. The Air National Guardsman, who recently underwent instruction in the food preparation block, did not choose to become a services specialist because he is a foodie. He was more attracted to the fitness aspect. However, spending time with his fellow students learning to prepare meals changed that.
“When I first started, I said ‘I’m enjoying this,’” he said of his kitchen initiation. “Before this, I was always scared of cooking. I didn’t know how to do it. My parents always tried to teach me … but I was kind of lazy. Right now, I’m actually doing it and it feels good.”
The dining facility block of instruction is the largest, said Monte, covering facility operation, basic and advanced preparation, and serving.
Unlike Blanco-Pino, Airman Chesney Lauer did not heavily lean toward a specific interest when she chose the services military occupational specialty. The self-described people-person, however, said the fact the MOS is centered on supporting others is sufficient for her.
“I like serving people and helping out, and you get to do that,” said the 19-year-old Pennsylvanian.
Lauer also said the various lines of work in the career field do not bother her.
“There’s definitely a lot of movement in services,” said the Air National Guardsman. “You won’t get bored. They’re going to move you around a lot. Personally, I want to work in physical fitness, but if I get bored, I going to be able to move around.”
The work Air Force services specialists perform is akin to the morale, welfare and recreation function present in each branch of the military. Fitness, hospitality and lodging, and food service are critical to building and maintaining morale. This is at the heart of the career field, said Monte.
“It’s a lot of hard work, and in a sense, there are no days off,” he said. “We’re working on holidays to feed airmen in the dorms, so it’s not a Monday thru Friday type of job, but the main thing is how much people rely on us.”
Conversely, the job can sometimes be thankless, he added.
“Sometimes we’re the butt of jokes from the different career fields, and that’s OK,” said Monte. “At the end of the day, we’re the ones feeding them; we’re the ones on deployments asking, ‘Hey, you want your chocolate chip cookies?’ You want entertainment? You want a Latin dance night or bingo? That’s us.”
Those graduating from the Services Specialist Course earn nine credit hours toward an associated degree in the Community College of the Air Force.
The Services Specialist Course is one of several Air Force courses to call Fort Lee home. The Air Transportation, Traffic Management and Hazardous Materiel Inspector and Preparer courses also are taught here.
Additionally, Air Force personnel undergo training in the Rigger Course. In total, roughly 6,000 Air Force personnel graduate yearly from the courses taught at Fort Lee.
For more information about the Services Specialist Course, visit www.airforce.com/careers/detail/services.