Roasting the competition: Whiteman dining facilities named best in Air Force

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brigitte N. Brantley
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
It is the pinnacle of Air Force food services, literally the shining proof that a base's dining facilities have beaten out all competition to be named the best. It is the John L. Hennessy Trophy.

This year, the 509th Force Support Squadron food services flight nabbed this top honor, beating out other Air Force bases across the world.

The actual trophy, which with its case weighs more than 115 pounds, is on its way to Whiteman for the first time since 1989.

"I'm just so proud of our Airmen and all the hard work and dedication they put into this food service operation on a daily basis," said Master Sgt. Robert Caldwell, 509th FSS food service section chief. "Many Airmen go their entire career without being able to say, 'I work in the best facility in the entire Air Force.' Now our guys can say that with pride."

The hard work and long hours started late last year in preparation for the Air Force Global Strike Command competition, of which the 509th FSS was named winner in January. Once they knew they had won at that level, they really kicked it into overdrive.

"Never in my career have I seen so many people pull together like that," said Staff Sgt. Travis Keele, Touch N' Go Flight Kitchen manager. "Once we heard we had won the AFGSC award, we were pumped up and there was no stopping us. It was like a proud dad moment when I heard we had won."

Keele was also named as the Hennessy Travel winner, meaning the inspectors were so impressed with his performance and work ethic that they chose him to attend a two-week course in California this fall to learn from professional chefs.

Previously, the Hennessy was awarded on two levels - single facility and multiple facilities. This year, it changed to east and west region divisions. Whiteman was named winner in the east region. Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, won for the west region.

Inspectors from the National Restaurant Association visited here for three days in early April to assess the unit, grading them on four dozen separate criteria in five categories.

Some of the squadron's many notable accomplishments include maintaining $20 million in assets, conducting 220 sanitation inspections, designing a dining facility landscape project, partnering with industry chefs for advanced training, overcoming a 38 percent manpower reduction, hosting 90 world-class events and enabling 6,400 sorties.

Food service Airmen also won recognition repeatedly throughout the year, including NCO of the year at the AFGSC level, three below-the-zone promotees and NCO of the quarter at the wing level. During the inspection, there were 23 superior performers; typically, fewer than 10 are given this honor.

"The Hennessy Award reflects the dedication of our military and contractors, who take immense pride in what they do every day," said Lt. Col. Brett Gooden, 509th FSS commander. "They came together last fall determined to compete for this award and worked hard for more than six months to make it happen. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences I've had in my 17 years of service. I couldn't be prouder of my people."

Gooden added that it was a wing-wide achievement made possible by "the tremendous support of the wing leadership and all active duty, Guard and Reserve personnel at Whiteman."

Other FSS members pitched in their off-duty time for various beautification projects, and the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron was instrumental in closing out 132 work orders in less than six months to get things in order.

Another FSS leader, who was another part of the driving force behind the effort of getting everything inspection-ready, had high praise for his Airmen.

"It was a full-court press from the time we picked up the inspectors to the moment we dropped them off," said Chief Master Sgt. Robert Bell, the squadron's chief enlisted manager. "It's so rewarding for me to see the Airmen take care of business. This year, nobody can say they did it better than us."

All levels of the base felt the impact from this accomplishment, from the workers who made it happen all the way up to wing leadership.

"Everyone who's eaten a meal in the dining facilities here at Whiteman already knows the incredible talent of our Force Support professionals," said Brig. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, 509th Bomb Wing commander. "This year, the Hennessy evaluation team validated what we already knew to be true -- that our food service Airmen are the best in the Air Force. Thank you to Team Whiteman for supporting our food service warriors who enable our mission success everyday!"

For the next year, the 509th FSS food service team will have bragging rights as it defends its title as the Air Force's best.