Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT PAO, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI)
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — After months of construction and waiting, the largest dining facility on Iraq’s Victory Base Complex opened to cheers and a flood of Soldiers and civilians March 20.
The executive officer for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Lt. Col. Frank Andrews, a native of Apex, N.C., thanked the employees of Kellogg, Brown and Root, the food service Soldiers of the 2nd BCT and the others who assisted in the construction and opening of the new facility. Andrews also cut the ceremonial ribbon stretched in front of the building.
“It’s a significant event for the brigade,” said Andrews of the facility’s opening. “The previous dining facility couldn’t handle the number of troops.”
The camp’s old dining facility – a wooden building that had several trailers attached to it by way of additions – had been intended to serve for six months, but Soldiers had used it for over three years.
The new building is expansive – a critical quality in view of the ongoing “surge” of troops in the Baghdad area.
“One of the great things about the U.S. Army is how they spare no expense to support the Soldiers,” Andrews said. “Even in Vietnam, they were flying ice cream to the forward operating bases.”
Ice cream – several pallets of it, in fact – is just one of the new dining facility’s offerings. With about 300 workers, including third-country nationals from places like Sri Lanka, American civilians, and Soldiers, the facility can provide more food, faster, to the troops in combat. Six one-megawatt generators power the building, which has been serving about 9,000 people at each meal during its first week of operation.
The workers, used to the cramped conditions and limited menu at Camp Striker’s earlier dining facility, are getting used to the place.
“They’ve jumped up to a 9,000 man-per-meal DFAC,” said Chief Warrant Officer Shawn Lashbrook, a native of Conroe, Texas, and the 2nd BCT’s food service manager. “They’re a little overwhelmed.”
Lashbrook plans to expand the menu even more, adding to the potato, pizza and pasta bars sections with stir-fry, gyros, fruit and international foods.
“We’ll give (the workers) a month or so, and then start bringing those on line,” he said. “They need to get the basics down first.”
Christian LeMoine, a native of Antwerp, Belgium, and a classically trained chef, is now a contractor with KBR and is the dining facility manager on Camp Striker.
“I speak four languages – and none of them are ones the workers speak,” LeMoine said, laughing.
The employees of the Gulf Catering Company hail from many countries, and the dining facility’s kitchen seems to be a well-placed reference to Iraq’s historical tower of Babel. Hindi, Urdu, Nepalese, Tamil, Bahasa, Tagalog and Arabic vie with the U.S. military’s standard English and Spanish to be heard in the building. The employees still know enough English, however, to serve the Soldiers and accomplish their missions.
LeMoine has worked tirelessly on the facility for months, said manager Howard Romano, a native of Bangkok, Thailand. “He’s plumb worn out,” Romano said, laughing.
LeMoine seemed to take it in stride.
“It’s a challenge, but I like challenges,” he said. Moving from being the head chef at a posh Belgian restaurant in New York to an Army dining facility was one of the challenges he likes, he added.
“I have always enjoyed working with different types of cuisine….I’m very proud of the new facility,” he said. “We have had a lot of great support.”
The facility offers several options to help Soldiers out, Lashbrook said, including a specific room where Soldiers can pick up large to-go orders for units going out into sector for the day, or large insulated containers of food called “mermites” to be used at field dining facilities.
Sgt. William Wary, a native of East Stroudsburg, Penn., and a team leader with the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd BCT’s personal security detachment, said he liked the changes.
“It’s pretty nice here,” he said during the grand opening lunch. “The food is better prepared than at the old facility, and the T-bone steak is definitely great. It’s very open and inviting – it’s great for morale.”