By Tech. Sgt. Terri Paden, 15th Wing Public Affairs
Air Force flight attendants from the 65th Airlift Squadron (AS) teamed up with their Army counterparts March 19 to serve up a joint service flight culinary training meal so delicious it received a standing ovation.
The flight culinary training meals are part of an ongoing effort between the two services to maximize on-thejob training opportunities and increase camaraderie and cross-flow of communication between the units.
For this exercise, the 65th AS Airmen joined Soldiers from the U.S. Army Priority Air Detachment in the kitchen to create a seven-course gourmet meal that was professionally plated and served it to members of both units who functioned as food critics for the event. The 40 guests in attendance were each served a tasting portion of every dish and asked to provide feedback to the cooks.
Master Sgt. Dove George, 65th AS superintendent, said the training meals have been an integral part of training for the Air Force flight attendants and, though the approach is uncommon, the results have been an overwhelmingly successful, budget-friendly alternative to formal training.
“In the Air Force, becoming a flight attendant is a re-training opportunity,” she said. “Our career field is made up of Airmen from a number of different AFSCs who don’t necessarily come to the field with cooking experience. Our primary duty on the aircraft is passenger safety – not food. However, it’s also our job to provide comfort. We fly top military and civilian leaders around the world, and it’s our job to make sure they are comfortable, fed, well rested and arrive at their destination safe and ready to work.”
George said the Army’s different approach to manning their flight attendant program makes them an ideal source for on-the-job-training (OJT).
Whereas the Air Force flight attendants receive a basic 17-day course before arriving to the field, Army flight attendants are on special duty from their primary jobs in the dining facility, so each of the Soldiers have prior food service experience and technical training when they arrive on the job.
“Working together for the training meal is a win-win for everyone,” George said. “The Soldiers get to continue practicing their skills, and the Airmen get to learn something new.”
According to Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Yaport, USAPAT flight steward NCO in charge, sharing their knowledge with the Air Force flight attendants helps them to continue to hone their own crafts.
“Preparing these meals is training for us, too,” he said. “It keeps us fresh and ensures we don’t forget little things. It’s awesome to be able to do joint ventures like these. When they ask us for help with training, it’s no problem because we’re all on the same team working toward the common goal of serving good food and making people happy.”
When working on the aircraft, flight attendants are tasked with researching their passengers’ likes and dislikes, planning menus, and preparing the food – all while providing top-notch service. George said it is a flight attendant’s job to know how to prepare any dish that is requested, and that’s how the unique training program was born.
“We are constantly looking for new training opportunities, whether that’s formal training at culinary school, or reaching out to other units like our Army counterparts or generals’ aides,” she said.
“We use the Internet, cookbooks, restaurant menus or ask for help. We do whatever we have to do to make sure that when we leave our home station and get on the jet, we know how to prepare what our passengers have requested, and that takes a lot of OJT and personal passion for the job. I want to do the best job I can every single time. You want it to be a great experience for the passenger.”
George said preparing the training meals gives the Airmen dedicated time to experiment with new dishes and learn new techniques without the pressure of preparing it for the first time on the jet at 30,000 feet in the air. It also allows the cooks to get feedback in real-time from someone other than their primary passenger.
“If we have amazing chefs in the kitchen doing things we’ve never done, then I can watch and learn and ask questions,” she said. “This type of training is more hands-on, and we’re going to learn a lot more than we would in a large classroom setting.”
George said the guest critiques and peer-to-peer feedback is one of the most valued aspects of the training.
“If we prepare a dish for the training meal and a large majority of the guest says they didn’t like something about it or it should have been presented differently, then that’s something we will likely practice more before serving on a jet, or not serve again,” she said. “Everything is a learning experience. Every time we prepare something there’s an opportunity to learn and that’s how we become the best.”
However, it’s not just flavor and technique being perfected during training. Presentation and professionalism are huge when dealing with the high-profile passengers the attendants transport.
“Our goal is to bring a smile to the faces of the people we serve,” Yaport said. “When I see those smiles, I know that as a team we have done a great job.”