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An army learns on its stomach.

A fair number of today's soldiers arrive at induction centers with only a basic knowledge of military traditions and of the Army's rich battle heritage. Many commanders feel that it is important for recruits to improve their historical knowledge so they can put the importance of their service into context while they learn Army values. Basic training and advanced individual training begin the process of becoming soldiers and introduce novice soldiers to their new profession of arms. However, units receiving these new soldiers can do more to flesh out their historical awareness and warrior identity. The 7th Transportation Group (Composite) has instituted a new method of imbuing soldiers with regimental pride and an understanding of their newly chosen profession at the home of the Army's Transportation Corps at Fort Eustis, Virginia. Group leaders have increased historical awareness and enhanced soldier quality of life--an important consideration in facilitating retention--by designing the decor of their regimental dining facility (RDFAC) around the history of the Transportation Corps.

Quality food service continues to be an important element in keeping morale high. Many people recall what "old school" Army mess halls were like. Figures much like the Beetle Bailey cartoon character, "Cookie," slinging hash and bawling out lazy privates on KP (kitchen police), have been replaced with modern food service technicians, state-of-the-art equipment, and accomplished chefs.

When construction funding was approved to build a new dining facility (DFAC) for the soldiers of the 7th Transportation Group, a window of opportunity opened for establishing a one-of-a-kind interior decor. Using Army and regimental history as a vehicle for in-house immersion learning, the chain of command sought to tell the soldiers' story and the Transportation Corps' history to a new generation. The atmosphere is designed to help soldiers internalize Army values and connect the sacrifices of their service fore-bears with their day-to-day duties and training.

Setting the Stage

Representatives of the Food Management Assistance Team at the Army Center of Excellence-Subsistence (ACES) at Fort Lee, Virginia, visited Fort Eustis to view its DFAC, receive briefings on the mission and activities of the 7th Group, and receive the command's vision for a unique Transportation Corps-centric DFAC. After touring the austere and limited infrastructure of the existing DFAC, the team visited the 3d Port (home of the 7th Transportation Group's composite fleet of Army watercraft) to see the galleys that the group's hard-working cooks man while the vessels are underway.

Whenever a vessel departs for sustained operations outside of local waters, at least two cooks are needed to provide the required level of food service for the often 120- to 179-day deployment. The distribution model used to fill unit vacancies for military occupational specialty 92G, food service specialist, does not fully resource this requirement. This often means that the group's consolidated DFAC has fewer 92Gs on hand than are needed to feed the soldiers remaining in garrison while providing cooks for field feeding and supporting Army Training and Doctrine Command and Reserve component commitments. Running a group-level, consolidated DFAC is essential to making the best use of the limited number of cooks; it also allows for more efficient ration storage and KP support to meet the diverse food service needs of the group.

Fortunately, the ACES team was so impressed with the group's vision of the proposed regimental mess style DFAC approach that they agreed to increase the interior design budget for the new building. They also recognized the high personnel tempo experienced by Army mariners and cooks in the 7th Group and the command's desire to give them a great place to come back to following a long deployment. The fresh approach to the RDFAC's interior and the accent on historical decor appealed to the ACES team.

Wanting more than simply a last food-type atmosphere in the DFAC, which is all the "bare-bones" funding would have allowed, the unit leaders appreciated ACES support in funding a facility that demonstrates the importance of the Army and the history of the Nation. The command's main objective was to achieve a first-class restaurant atmosphere that was richly decorated with military memorabilia and artifacts, all thematically linked to Transportation Corps and Army history.

Facility Layout

The 7th Transportation Group Deputy Commander and the group's food service adviser began working on facility design and functional layout and assessing the various contractor's plans of how to best meet the decor desires of the command. They received assistance from many organizations, including the Fort Eustis historian, the Army Transportation Museum, the Directorate of Logistics, and the Directorate of Public Works. The group's leaders worked with contractors to craft the facility's decor into a vibrant, interesting style that would both educate and stimulate soldier and civilian diners.

The work progressed throughout the fall of 2001, and the facility had its grand opening in early January 2002. It was apparent from soldier comment cards and dining facility council meetings that the improved facility was an immediate success. The enhanced decor and improved food quality had made a dramatic statement to the group's soldiers about the command's commitment to raise their quality of life.

The 7th Transportation Group Regimental Dining Facility is a 22,000-square-foot building with the capacity to feed approximately 1,400 troops per meal period--almost a fivefold increase over its predecessor. Entrances on both sides of the building open into a common food serving area. This area has two salad bars, two main course lines, and two short-order lines. The main entrance also has a take-out section that features a popular "grab-n-go" menu. Beverage and condiment serving areas line both serving areas. After selecting their entrees, diners leaving the serving lines pass by the baked potato and taco bars on their way to the dessert area. From the dessert area, a diner can move to either of two dining rooms to eat.

The dining rooms are located in two large wings that are separated by the serving line exit and dessert bars. Each wing consists of a dining area that is divided into two dining rooms. One of the dining rooms can be closed off by a heavy partition for special events or unit functions. Each dining room has beverage refill areas and toasters to ease serving line congestion and minimize return diner traffic to the main serving area.

Regimental Decor

The colors in the kitchen areas and floor are Transportation Corps red and yellow. A deep marine blue also is seen throughout the facility, reflecting the unique maritime heritage of the 7th Transportation Group.

Traditional tables and booths and raised, bar-style tables and countertops are available for dining. The sturdy furniture was custom made with troops in mind. The Transportation Corps brick-red fabric on the chairs and benches resists staining, fire damage, and wear. The combination of easily cleaned chrome legs and struts and maple-colored wood laminate complements the interior color scheme. The furniture and fixtures are highly functional, esthetically pleasing, and built for ease in cleaning and maintaining. The booths have black bases that are designed to help hide combat boot scuffmarks and resist damage by busy diners. Each chair back has a handy eyelet, reminiscent of a ship's porthole, making it easy for a diner to grasp and reposition the chair.

All plates, bowls, and flatware have the group patch superimposed over bands of Transportation Corps red and yellow along the rim. The sturdy plastic maritime blue dinner trays reflect the group's unique mission, and the group patch adorns every shatterproof glass.

From the Civil War to the Iraqi War

The thematic approach of using the colors and traditions of the Transportation Corps would not be complete without including the contributions of the Transportation Corp's predecessor, the Quartermaster Corps. The RDFAC's cooks and the unit supply personnel are Quartermasters, so a significant amount of artwork and artifacts reflects the importance of the Quartermaster Corps in sustaining our Nation's army in both peace and war.

A Quartermaster blue timeline, beginning with the Civil War, borders the ceiling along the walls in both dining wings. When the timeline reaches 1942, the color changes from blue to brick red to reflect the birth of the Transportation Corps. The timeline notes major events in the Nation's military history and specifically in the logistics branches, including battles, new equipment fieldings, branch-specific watersheds, and actions of key figures.

Built-in wall artifact cases can be viewed from both sides. Displays are changed periodically to maintain freshness and interest. Two of the cases are set aside for current soldier achievements such as soldier of the quarter, cook of the quarter, and noncommissioned officer of the year. The two-sided pictures of the recipients and copies of their awards help the command recognize exceptional soldiers, reinforcing the idea that rewarding excellence in soldiering is an Army tradition. Pictures and artifacts of recent operations and exercises fill an adjacent case, demonstrating ongoing group contributions to combatant commanders worldwide.

Three-dimensional displays are featured along the walls in several areas of the RDFAC to break up the two-dimensional array of photos and posters. Helmets, canteens, bugles, and even wagon wheels are displayed on shelves and in niches throughout the building. Several large wall-mounted display cases containing authentic period uniforms with vignettes are particularly popular with diners. These uniforms range from the Civil War to Operation Desert Storm. A complete diving suit from the group's engineer dive company and a Middle Eastern sailing vessel known as a dhow (frequently seen by 7th Group mariners during U.S. Central Command deployments) give that portion of the RDFAC a more contemporary flavor.

Each of the four dining rooms is broken down into major periods, which are prominently named above the timeline. They are the--

* Civil War.

* Spanish-American War.

* World War I.

* World War II.

* Korean War.

* Vietnam War.

* Operations Desert Shield and Storm.

* Recent contingency operations.

Space is available along two long exit hallways for new unit displays and history. Special displays and menus are used for ethnic observances to highlight the many diverse groups that constitute our Nation and who have served in the defense of the United States. Temporary exhibits featuring Buffalo Soldiers, Asian-American soldiers of the 442d Regimental Combat Team, and Medal of Honor winners pique the diners' interest.

Immediately after entering the RDFAC, diners pass through either a soldiers of excellence display area or a Women's Army Corps (WAC) hall, an area set aside to recognize the contributions of early female soldiers in the U.S. Army.

Since the RDFAC's grand opening, unsolicited feedback from diners has been uniformly positive. Efforts of the Marine Corps and Air Force to copy this approach prove the viability and impact of using history to enhance service pride and promote military values. The RDFAC has become a magnet for all kinds of visitors. VIPs, foreign officials, Members of Congress, and others have commented positively on the exceptional food quality, broad menu selection, and unique decor.

Regimental history is not simply a pallid shadow of the unit's past or something for harassed soldiers to hastily memorize for the promotion board. Instead, it is a rich and vibrant resource for building the combat power of the command. The use of our Army's heritage as a means to instill soldierly virtue is not a novel idea. However, embracing it as the central theme for a unit dining facility is an Army first.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL JAMES P. HERSON, JR., IS ASSIGNED TO THE U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND. HE WAS THE COMMANDER OF THE 24TH TRANSPORTATION BATTALION AT FORT EUSTIS, VIRGINIA, WHEN HE WROTE THIS ARTICLE. HE HOLDS A MASTER'S DEGREE AND A PH.D. IN HISTORY FROM FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY, A MASTER'S DEGREE IN MILITARY ART AND SCIENCE FROM THE ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLLEGE'S SCHOOL OF ADVANCED MILITARY STUDIES.
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Author:Herson, James P., Jr.
Publication:Army Logistician
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Words:1948
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