By Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 05, 2019
Airman 1st Class Jawan Dial, 31st Force Support Squadron assistant sports director, explains the contents of unitized group rations to Lt. Col. Brian Robertson, 606th Air Control Squadron commander, outside Pula, Croatia, May 28, 2019. The 31st FSS provided food services to the 606th ACS during exercise Astral Knight 19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
Airman Shane Bradshaw, 31st Force Support Squadron fitness apprentice, serves food from inside a single pallet expeditionary kitchen to Lt. Col. Brian Robertson, 606th Air Control Squadron commander, outside Pula, Croatia, May 28, 2019. FSS Airmen can be pulled from any facility, including fitness centers, to support SPEK operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
In the middle of exercises like Astral Knight 19, a joint, multinational exercise designed to test Europe and NATO’s integrated air and missile defense, your next meal often becomes a low priority.
“A lot of these exercises can go where you just get handed a bunch of [Meals, Ready to Eat] MREs,” said Capt. Corey Hayes, 31st Force Support Squadron services sustainment flight commander.
So, as the 606th Air Control Squadron prepared to deploy Airmen and equipment to a small airport outside Pula, Croatia in support of Astral Knight 19, one of the calls they made was to the 31st FSS.
“They asked what our capabilities were, we described what we could do, and they said ‘that sounds great. Can we take that?’” Hayes said.
To support the 606th ACS, the 31st FSS provided a single pallet expeditionary kitchen (SPEK). As the name suggests, everything required to feed the 606th came on a single pallet- the tent, cooking and serving equipment, and of course, the food. Unitized Group Rations (UGRs) can feed up to 50 Airmen from a single box.
“Just think of them as ‘plussed’ up MREs,” Hayes said.
The food comes in pre-packaged containers, which are dipped into a special water-filled heater until ready. From there, they’re placed into warming containers and are ready to serve.
“It’s really nice, actually,” said Tech. Sgt. Van Salgado, an exercise participant from the 606th ACS. “Just very convenient to have food readily accessible.”
SPEKs are a capability possessed by every FSS across the Air Force, but not one they often get to use outside of a deployed environment.
“Normally we do what’s called home station readiness training, where we break it out on base. We probably won’t actually serve any UGRs,” Hayes said. “This is cool because we actually get to run everything.”
Airmen in the services career field have to be ready at a moment’s notice, Hayes said. Though they may not regularly work in the dining facility, any FSS Airman can be pulled to support a SPEK deployment.
“I love it. It’s a great experience for me,” said Airman 1st Class Jawan Dial, 31st FSS assistant sports director. “Being out here to support these guys and their mission is awesome.”
The 31st FSS’s role in the overall success of the Astral Knight 19 isn’t lost on the 606th ACS.
“This is not just a 606th event, this is a 606th Air Control Squadron, 31st Force Support Squadron, and 123rd Air Control Squadron event,” said Lt. Col Brian Robertson, 606th ACS commander.
The 123rd ACS, an Air National Guard unit from Cincinnati supplemented the 606th ACS with personnel during the exercise.