Subsistence’s first nutritionist has helped the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support offer healthier food items to military customers since arriving two years ago.
Army Lt. Col. Debra Hernandez, a registered dietitian, uses her more than 25 years of experience to analyze products’ ingredients and ensure they are meeting customer’s nutritional needs.
As military services implement various health initiatives, such as the Department of Defense Go For Green program, Hernandez has helped the Subsistence team understand what items customers want for these programs.
“There is a push towards readiness and resiliency, and part of both of these initiatives is nutrition,” said Hernandez. “Nutrition has a critical role in physical performance as well as cognitive functioning.”
John Woloszyn, chief of the Subsistence supplier support division, said having a nutrition advisor has been a great asset to the supply chain.
“She has added a new energy to the division and brings a lot of experience and expertise,” said Woloszyn. “We were really missing that experience to really delve into what these (nutritional and dietary) products are, what the services want and don’t want to receive.”
Hernandez works with customers to make sure they are receiving items that meet the DOD menu standards and the services’ food buying guides. If there are any issues, she then coordinates with the contracting specialist and the manufacturer to resolve them.
Hernandez is lending her nutritional advice to several programs.
She’s working to determine if a dietary intervention, such as a performance readiness bar, can help decrease the number of military recruits who develop stress fractures. According to the Defense Health Agency, about 3 percent of men and 9 percent of women in basic training develop stress fractures.
Hernandez is co-leading a process improvement project which includes creating a joint food service buying guide that combines all the services’ food item needs into one guideline, which alleviates duplications in the system.
“The goal for that project is to have clear requirements for all the services that take in both the quality attributes of a product as well as the nutritional attributes,” said Hernandez.
She also helps the Subsistence national contracts team evaluate the nutritional value of products that vendors propose for various protein contracts. Once complete, Hernandez then shares her findings with the Joint Subsistence Policy Board.
Hernandez’s advice has become so valued, Woloszyn said, that Subsistence hired an additional person and an intern with dietary and nutrition experience.
“(We) saw the need and the worth of having someone here in that position and capacity,” said Woloszyn. “It helped us to start thinking about growing the bench to provide nutritional support.”