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Pa. National Guard cooks up inter-branch bonds during DNC dining

A nine-member team composed of Airmen and soldiers from across the Pennsylvania National Guard conduct line preparation and progressive cooking before a dinner for approximately 220 Guardsmen at Fort Indiantown Gap (FITG), Pa., July 25, 2016. The soldiers and Airmen are at FITG to support the National Guard’s diversified mission during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Shaffer)

A nine-member team composed of Airmen and soldiers from across the Pennsylvania National Guard conduct line preparation and progressive cooking before a dinner for approximately 220 Guardsmen at Fort Indiantown Gap (FITG), Pa., July 25, 2016. The soldiers and Airmen are at FITG to support the National Guard’s diversified mission during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Shaffer)

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. -- Nine members of the Pennsylvania National Guard were assigned here to support the Joint Task Force (JTF) military personnel who assisted the 2016 Democratic National Convention hosted in Philadelphia, July 25-28.

The services team addressed JTF members' most basic need - food.

Providing sustainment for more than 220 JTF military personnel per meal period took a dual-branch effort. Members from the 111th Attack Wing at Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania, included Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Bacchus, from the 111th Force Support Squadron, and Airman 1st Class Alan Aguilar, part of the 201st Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer (RED HORSE) Squadron, Det. 1. The Army Guard's Spc. Derrick Colon, a human resources specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 213th Regional Support Group, 213th Personnel Company, along with six other enlisted military personnel made up the nine-member services team assigned to one of several military dining facilities (DFAC) around the installation here.

A team built under pressure

Arriving under the cover of darkness to their assigned dinning facility, Bacchus, Aguilar and Colon, along with their colleagues from across the commonwealth, accomplished more before the sun rose than the average individual does all day. Their duty started around 4 a.m. and didn't wrap up till until about 8:30 p.m. The joint-branch team managed to stay highly motivated throughout their lengthy days by maintaining a light-hearted atmosphere and focusing on team integrity when the pressure was on.

"Teamwork is extremely important to being successful in a situation like this," said Bacchus. "I just got back Airmen Leadership School, and this has just been like ALS...in regard to the levels of networking and team rework involved; it's really exciting to see things come full circle."

Aguilar said that he strongly agreed with Bacchus just on how important teamwork is when jumping head first into a mission such as this. "We hit the ground running Saturday morning and we all managed to meld together rather easily," said Aguilar. "Every day is different, we really never know when the rush is going to hit, but we know it will so we have to collectively be ready."

Colon echoed the opinions of his JTF colleagues on the importance of coming together for the greater in support of the overall mission. "A few of us came into this from completely different Military Occupation Specialties [MOS] and were graciously taken under the wings of some the more experienced troops," said Colon. "Overall, this has been a great life lesson; not only were we able to learn from each other, but I feel like we were all able to share valuable skills with one another."

Cookin' with experience

"I'd like to say I wear two hats, during drill weekends I assist with lodging back home but during the DNC I'm doing food support with other services soldiers and Airmen from across the state," said Bacchus. "We're working together to accomplish the greater common goal of feeding quality breakfasts and dinners to the combined state military personnel who are here in support of the combined efforts of JTF during the DNC."

Bacchus said that they were provided a nine day menu by the Army, which gave them something different to prepare for the joint force troops every day. "Progressive cooking along with preparing items ahead of time have been our greatest ally in getting fresh quality breakfasts and dinners to the soldiers and airmen," said Bacchus, a former Army reservist.

Bacchus and Aguilar explained that with progressive cooking the trick of the trade is to make sure you always cook the items that take the longest first. "Typically you want to prep and cook your meats first and then work your way down the line to build up a steady line of freshly prepared foods," said Bacchus.

Aguilar said that he had learned about progressive cooking from past experiences and that he was able to share his knowledge. But he also stated that he was learning from the others. "This time around I feel like we are able to collectively share and learn from our experiences to achieve our goals much more easily," said Aguilar.

"The way you can learn is by always observing and watching other's techniques, so you can learn new ways to accomplish tasks," said Colon. "I'm glad we have had this experience working with different types of people, from different backgrounds, ethnicities, branches, and ranks; I think it allowed for a more rewarding and stimulating experience as a whole and I can't wait to volunteer again."

Teamwork is paramount

The team functioned like a well-oiled machine even during crunch time. This was due to their combined efforts, knowledge and commitment to working as team. "None of us has a specific job so while we're here, so we jump in where ever we can to help each other out, we all have the same mission," said Aguilar. "We all want to provide the service members that are here with the best quality food that we can."

Aguilar explained that military branch was irrelevant because the goal was the same. "I've learned from the Army and they've learned from me, it's all about sharing knowledge and helping one another out," said Aguilar. "At the end of the night we all have that common bond that once the last customer has left; we all want to get home as soon as we can."

And with a common bond, the team disregarded branch affiliation and left no one to falter or fail.

"We were all treated as equals from the minute we came together as a team," said Colon. "If one of us messed up, we came together and we [taught] and learned from our mistakes to fix what needs to be done the right way."

Bacchus said that constant willingness to help each other out has helped strengthen the bond, making them a stronger team in the end.

"Just take it one day at a time, the days are rather unpredictable, you just have to be dedicated to what you do," said Aguilar. "Sometimes you might be half asleep, but you have to the job and that mission is to feed the troops; it's service before self."