AL ASAD, Iraq -- When service members are eating at dining facilities, they rarely think about who had a hand in preparing the food. When the food is served by civilian contractors, the service members behind the scenes are thought of even less.
At Al Asad, those behind-the-scenes Marines and soldiers are guaranteeing that everyone gets the food they need and that it is handled and prepared according to military standards.
The Al Asad dining facilities serve thousands of people each day and prepare meals for thousands more whose jobs keep them from making it to the DFACs. Approximately 24,000 meals are served in the DFACs each day and another 18,000 are sent outside the facilities, according to Army Sgt. 1st Class Ralph Roberts, the base food service noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
The staff at the DFACs begin preparing for a meal about three hours beforehand, according to Roberts
“Inside the DFACs, we do progressive cooking,” said Roberts, a Selma, Ala., native. “They’ll cook enough for maybe 1,000 and then as the line comes in they’ll cook more. They do that so we’re not wasting food.”
The cooks and servers at the DFACs are third country nationals, civilians brought in from other countries to work in the facilities. The Marines and soldiers act more as supervisors than cooks. At any one time, there are approximately nine service members and 100 TCNs working in twelve hour shifts, according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joseph Fore, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) food service officer.
The service members’ main duty is oversight; making certain that food is properly prepared and nothing contaminates the food that is in storage, according to Fore.
“We monitor everything from when it gets here on the truck to when it goes out on the serving line,” said Fore, a Swansboro, N.C., native. “We monitor temperatures and we’re doing inspections all the time.”
All the inspections are not just for health reasons, but for force protection as well, according to Fore.
“If a truck comes in, we unload it,” said Fore. “The Marines are in the back doing checks on the trucks because they’ve been sealed. We make sure the contractors are doing their jobs safety-wise. We have to ensure no one tampers with the chow.”
While meals are being served Marines and soldiers inspect the food, Army Sgt. Havon Gross, the food service supervisor, can be seen with thermometer and notebook in hand, ensuring that food is being kept at the correct temperatures.
“My job is basically to supervise the TCNs and soldiers under me to make sure we’re taking temps, and that they are wearing gloves and proper headgear,” said Gross, a Birmingham, Ala., native.
Despite the daunting task of safely feeding all those people, Fore says DFAC operations have gone smoothly.
“Right now everything is working really well,” said Fore. “(The service members and TCNs) have the system down pretty good here.”
All the hard work pays off when customers sit down to a good meal, according to Gross.
“With food service, especially when something good is on the menu, you get a lot of smiles and thank you’s,” Gross said. “That’s the best part.”