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News | Dec. 15, 2017

In-flight kitchen: A peek behind the service line

By Senior Airman Jazmin Smith 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Their day begins long before the rise of the sun – The modest-sized staff, consisting of six active-duty Airmen and three civilian contractors, must prepare for the 200-plus guests who walk through the doors of the “Touch n’ Go” flight kitchen, also known as the in-flight kitchen (IFK), at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

Their mission is on the flightline, not in operations or maintenance, but as an essential augment to these assets.

“We provide mission-sustaining and customer-driven food and beverage programs to enhance the quality of life for Air Force communities,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jessica Ancheta, the flight kitchen manager assigned to the 509th Force Support Squadron.

Their role offers flightline personnel a means to reduce the amount of time they spend away from nation’s premier stealth bomber mission. In short, they save the base countless hours of in and out-processing from a secure flightline.

“We also support the pilots and Airmen during real-world contingencies and during exercises by offering flight and ground meals,” added Ancheta.

Amid the heat from the ovens and steam from dishes running through the wash, the kitchen staff always confirms equipment is working properly and routinely checks all refrigeration units.

“Shift leaders start their day with the production log, ensuring every item for breakfast and lunch has been pulled to thaw and to ensure that we have enough product to support,” said Ancheta.

Some of the additional duties the staff hold are determining the logistics on how much food will be needed each week, while preventing waste as best as possible. Once the orders are sent through, supplies from six different vendors must be picked up by the IFK staff from the Ozark Inn dining facility.

This year marks the first of its kind where the IFK staff changed it up for the holiday season.

On Dec. 14, 2017, flightline personnel entered to find an unusual venue: a Christmas feast. Their Christmas lunch menu featured roast turkey, baked ham, roast rib of beef, and various side options to include a salad bar and dinner rolls. The choice of French apple pie or the pecan pie was available to finish off the meal.

“This is the first time in the flight kitchen’s history that we have been able to offer holiday themed meals to our Airmen on the flightline,” said Ancheta. “Most of our flight kitchen customers do not get a chance to experience a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal since we have never offered specialty meals at the IFK, so we wanted to brighten the season and this is our way we can say ‘thank you’ to the hard working Airmen on the flightline.”

With the New Year just around the corner, there are other changes patrons can expect to see and taste.

“We have been selected as the test base for new flight and ground meal options, which will offer more variety and also focus on incorporating additional healthy options,” added Ancheta. “We are projected to roll those out by the end of January 2018.”

A renovation project is also in the works to update the facility and equipment and streamline processes to meet the needs of the mission and focus on customers’ desire to have more grab-n-go options.

When lunch is over, the day is not finished. Condiments, beverages, and grab-n-go items are stocked and the production log is completed. Then data is compiled from product orders, daily sales and headcounts, and much more to forecast how much of each item to make or purchase.

When the day finally calms, the Airmen have time for career development training, which will take them to closing time. Aprons and hats are put up in lockers, and a final walkthrough ensures the facility is safe and secure prior to locking the doors and heading home.

Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Whiteman Air Force Base website.