Soldiers of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), continue to adapt their daily routines and safety measures in response to COVID-19.
The culinary specialists within the Snipes Dining Facility are prepared to enhance morale and allow the brigade to sustain the force during the pandemic by remaining open and proudly serving hot meals to every Bastogne Soldier seven days a week.
Cleanliness, sanitation and sustainment are crucial in maintaining the health and welfare of the everyone in the Army Family, especially during this time.
Staff Sergeant Carlos Mercado, food service specialist, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 426th Brigade Support Battalion, is a shift line supervisor for Bastogne’s culinary specialists within Snipes DFAC and enforces cleanliness and meals prepared at a high standard during every shift.
“At 4:45 a.m. we begin with cooks mount,” Mercado said. “We ensure that every cook’s nails are clipped, their uniform is clean and that their hands are washed and sanitized.”
This is a daily routine for the Snipes DFAC prior to every meal even before the pandemic but they have increased their efforts in several other ways to keep the DFAC and Soldiers safe from COVID-19.
“The changes start at the very beginning of food service,” Mercado said. “We have Soldiers forming a line outside with a Soldier from the DFAC ensuring they remain 6 feet away from each other. At the entrance of the DFAC, they wash their hands with hot soap and water and then we have them sanitize their hands at the sign-in station. We emphasize cleanliness. If we used to clean 10 times during a session, now we clean 20 times.”
These basic ways to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria are conducted upon entry of the DFAC daily but there is one major change that ensures social distancing is maintained. Every meal served in the DFAC is grab-and-go.
“We no longer allow Soldiers to grab their own food,” Mercado said. “We are eliminating the number of Soldiers touching the utensils and condiments to avoid the spread of the virus.”
The Snipes DFAC also has limited the amount of chef’s inside the building to perform operations moving to a different shift schedule. The culinary experts are now working one full day in the kitchen preparing and serving each meal and have three days away from the DFAC to conduct training at their respective companies.
Specialist Mely Rogers, culinary specialist, G Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, takes full advantage of his time away from the kitchen to increase his knowledge on basic Soldier skills and collegiate activities.
“When I report to the unit we conduct Eagle First Responder classes, equal opportunity, sexual harassment and reporting program training and conducting physical training to improve our basic soldier skills,” Rogers said. “The commander has us training virtually and with applications that we can use on our phone or computer to emphasize social distancing. When I’m not doing that, I am taking general studies courses through Austin Peay State University and am progressing towards an associate’s degree in culinary arts.”
The Soldiers working hard at Snipes DFAC work long hours and have a passion for serving Soldiers. At every station within the DFAC, the culinary professionals assist and attend to their customers’ needs with a smile.
Specialist Kayla Mitchell, culinary specialist, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 426th Brigade Support Battalion, enjoys her shift and preparing meals for her Soldiers.
“I wake up at 3:30 a.m. to get ready and I am back at my room at the end of the day at 8 p.m.,” Mitchell said. “I enjoy cooking and put passion into everything that I make. It’s worth it and I think it’s a reasonable schedule.”
Snipes DFAC will remain open with passionate Soldiers serving the force. During social distancing and restriction of movement to only mission-essential services this facility is a necessity for the Bastogne team.
“I would love to see our Soldiers come to our DFAC before they even think of going out there and potentially expose themselves, their Families and battle buddies,” Mercado said. “That’s what we’re here for. We’re mission essential. We’re up to the task during this pandemic to serve our Soldiers so they can stay healthy and be ready to fight.”