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Associates indispensible at Riverside

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Please call them "Associates." They like that handle - they've earned it. They are an indispensible part of the team, and without them, Patrick Air Force Base's premiere eatery, the Riverside Dining Facility, would be hard-pressed to fulfill its mission of providing three nutritious and tasty meals a day to the base's hungry enlisted personnel.

Who are these associates? You've seen them around. They work all over the base. Give up? The associates are persons with disabilities affiliated with the Brevard Achievement Center.

This private, nonprofit organization operates a variety of contracts under the AbilityOne Program, a federal procurement program that develops job and training opportunities for the disabled. The end result is a worker with a high level of vocational and social independence. At the Riverside Dining Facility, 46 associates earn money working in a variety of jobs as cooks, food servers, dishwashers and cashiers. Throughout the base, another 140 Associates work as custodians, shelf stockers, warehouse specialists, telephone operators and grounds maintenance workers. They love their jobs.

"This is a nice place to work because of all the nice people," said Riverside's Jacob Hefter, a BAC Associate for 19 years - 13 of those as a fulltime dishwasher at the facility.

The money Mr. Hefter earns allows him to live alone, support himself and even save a little for a rainy day. Right now, Mr. Hefter is excited about the upcoming visit by the AF Hennessy Evaluation Team - they arrive February 20. The team travels the world evaluating food service programs AF-wide. Their nod of approval determines which base has the best dining facility in the U.S. Air Force.

"We're ready for them and I hope we win," Mr. Hefter said excitedly. He's not alone.

"I hope we win Hennessy too," said fellow Associate Lucille Ingram, a food line server who has worked at the dining facility for more than 11 years. "I like my job, especially making the sandwiches at lunchtime," she said beaming with pride.

As proud as Ms. Ingram and Mr. Hefter are about their jobs and workplace, so is Mr. Pete King when he talks about the BAC Associates. Mr. King is the 45th Force Support Squadron's Food Service Officer.

"This is the finest group of people I have ever had the privilege to work with," Mr. King said. "They do an outstanding job, not only in preparation for the AF Hennessy Evaluation Team visit and trophy competition, but every day of the year. I would take this BAC contract and match it up with any contract in the U.S. Air Force or anyplace else! I couldn't be prouder of this group of fine folks. We wouldn't be the dining facility we are today without their efforts."

Well said, Mr. King. The Associates at Riverside have certainly proven themselves indispensible in keeping our airmen well fed, healthy, fit and ready to perform their mission. This is evidenced by Riverside's outstanding record of success - 11 Air Force Space Command Hennessy Awards and two Air Force Hennessy Awards in 17 years.

So, will they win another Air Force Hennessy Award?

"We'll win because we're number one and the food is great!" Mr. Hefter said with a smile.