By Staff Sgt. Valerie Halbert, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 26, 2020
Airman 1st Class Ericka Woolever, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, organizes dining facility meal requests into a spreadsheet at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Aug. 20, 2020. Volunteers at Aviano are working together to provide meals from the dining facility and groceries from the Commissary to service members throughout Aviano, who are on a 14-day Restriction of Movement order. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Valerie Halbert)
Mission. Airmen. Family. Our Wyverns have taken the 31st Fighter Wing priorities to heart and banded together to take care of our own.
When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic began, Aviano Airmen started the Commissary Extension Service program to support the spouses of deployed members who could not grocery shop on their own, due to various limitations or restrictions. After a period of time, these restrictions were lifted and the base transitioned into a new-normal ops tempo, where this program was no longer needed.
As Permanent Change of Station season arrived, new restrictions and guidelines were put into place requiring a 14-day Restriction of Movement for incoming Airmen. The CES program was started once again, this time to help service members in the dorms and temporary lodging facilities who are not able to leave their rooms.
The member on ROM fills out a worksheet with the items they would like to receive and a volunteer is then contacted to fill the request and delivery the groceries, said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jordan Scott, 31st FW Plans and Programs flight chief.
“As a first sergeant, we attend a lot of meetings and are given a lot of information on base events and current happenings,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Bradley Hellberg, 724th Air Mobility Squadron first sergeant. “It was brought to our attention that there would be a large influx of technical school graduates and [Airmen] PCSing [to Aviano] soon.”
Many Airmen in the dorms do not receive a Basic Allowance for Subsistence allotment to help offset the cost of meals, since their meals are provided at the dining facility, Hellberg explained. If dorm Airmen wanted to take part in the CES program, they would have to pay for groceries out-of-pocket.
“[When] reaching out to other first sergeants, their squadrons were doing a great job of taking care of their inbounds, but the sustainability and large influx of incomers was going to put a strain on units,” Hellberg said. “We needed something to help these Airmen.”
Hellberg then came up with the initial concept for a meal delivery system from the La Dolce Vista dining facility and worked through obstacles with the help of Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Vacher and U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Brad Coddington, both with the 31st Force Support Squadron.
“The DFAC was immensely helpful in getting this program off the ground,” Hellberg said. “Tech. Sgt. Vacher and Master Sgt. Coddington laid out their capabilities and restrictions [at the DFAC] and worked through those challenges, making it seem like this might be possible. This program could end up being an Airman’s first impression of Aviano.”
The DFAC team prepares each meal beforehand, includes any site items needed, and adds the delivery location on the meal containers for volunteers to simply pick up and deliver.
“The entire program is very volunteer-driven,” Hellberg said. “The program requires three meals a day for seven days a week. We’ve been very fortunate to have had a great turnout so far.”
One of those volunteers is Airman 1st Class Ericka Woolever, 31st FW Public Affairs photojournalist, who is in charge of keeping track of all the DFAC orders. Woolever created an ordering system from the DFAC menu and organizes all the meal requests from ROM members into a spreadsheet, which is then given to the DFAC for meal preparation.
“I am super grateful I was given the opportunity to be a part of the program,” Woolever said. “This program is truly a representation of caring for our Airmen, which is our biggest asset in the Air Force. Every time I dedicate time to the program I know I am guaranteeing a meal for someone.”
When Hellberg first began the program, he reached out to Scott and her team, who were running the CES program. They had already established a large number of volunteers for the grocery deliveries, and Hellberg and Scott were able to pull from the same volunteer pool for both programs.
“The support from the volunteers, the 31st FSS, the Defense Commissary Agency, and all the other agencies that have worked to make this possible has been amazing to see,” Scott said. “These programs demonstrate what it means to be a wingman and a Wyvern. Our goal is to take care of Airmen and families, which makes it possible to get the mission done.”
Both Hellberg and Scott continue to move forward and expand their programs with the help of their entire volunteer team and helping agencies.
“Thank you again to all my teammates and volunteers, this would 100% fail without them,” said Hellberg. “Their hard work and dedication has been incredible and humbling. From chiefs to pilots, Airmen to Active Guard, we feed them all.”