Feeding the Force: Dining facilities alter operations during pandemic

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Signs on the doors inform people they must wear a mask or face covering to enter. Markings on the floors remind customers that they must remain six feet apart inside the Monarch and David Grant USAF Medical Center dining facilities at Travis AFB.

Enjoying conversation during breakfast or lunch in one of the dining rooms is not an option. All meals are to-go only.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented a number of challenges to the U.S. military, including providing service members with nutritious meals while reducing the potential spread of the virus.

“It’s important we take care of everyone, so they can do their mission,” said Tech. Sgt. Lamesha Meeks, 60th Force Support Squadron Monarch Dining Facility assistant manager. “Whether that’s on the flight line, in the hospital, security forces or elsewhere, all of our service members are important to ensuring mission success.”

Since March 16, the Monarch and the DGMC dining facilities have been open for carry-out services only, and between the two establishments, they serve an average of 950 customers a day.

In order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, both dining facilities implemented procedures to ensure the safety of staff and customers. In addition to signs and markings  reminding customers to practice physical distancing, the Monarch initiated split shifts and installed protective barriers between cashiers and customers.

An Airman is also posted at the door of the Monarch for each meal to advise patrons of the requirement to wear a face covering. Upon entering, customers must wash their hands. The Monarch is also not accepting cash payments. Payment is only possible with meal cards and debit or credit cards. Both facilities are currently only open to service members.

“Our top priority is keeping people safe while continuing our mission,” Meeks said.

Service members choosing to find their nourishment at one of the dining facilities have many of the same options they did before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“While our salad bar is closed, and service members can no longer dine in, we offer a variety of pre-packaged items including sandwiches and salads,” said Senior Airman Halle Joppy, 60th FSS food service shift leader. “Our main line and grill are also open offering a number of meat, vegetable and carbohydrate options including turkey burgers, grilled chicken entrees and popular items like chicken tenders or french fries.”

Additionally, the Monarch beefed up its staff to enable the implementation of split shifts. After the Travis Fitness Center closed March 15 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the fitness center team went to work at the DFAC.

“We now have nearly 100 people working on our team including service members and civilians,” Meeks said. “The additional manning has enabled us to split into groups and limit the amount of contacts we have in the dining facility.”

While it is important to provide healthy food options for Team Travis, it is also vital to ensure the people providing the food can accomplish their mission, Meeks added.

“Some of our employees have lost family members to COVID-19,” she said. “We have implemented daily calls where our noncommissioned officers contact each team member to ensure they are OK. With the split shifts, we are able to give them time to grieve while ensuring the mission continues.”

Joppy said she is humbled to be able to support service members during such a difficult time.

“I’m grateful I’m part of a team that can provide the support our military needs,” she said. “Providing them with a hot meal can go a long way.”