Keeping perspective at the DFAC

“If I can get through one person every day, somehow, someway, then I feel like I’ve done my job,” Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Smith of Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army Europe said.

Smith, whose 14-year career has taken him from Fort Bragg to the Pentagon, currently works as the culinary manager at the Strong Europe Cafe Dining Facility.

“None of us were planning for COVID,” Smith said, “so, really we’re in uncharted waters on this. I really, sincerely, appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to navigate through all of this.”

A recent addition to the DFAC staff, Smith arrived in January after serving as an Advanced Individual Training instructor at Fort Lee, Virginia. He said the dining facility has made a number of changes to help ensure customer safety during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

Among the biggest changes is the transition to take-away only operations. The dining facility now only offers food on a to-go basis, with the dining room closed.

Sgt. Evan Ruchotzke/7th MPAD
Members of the culinary staff at the Strong Europe Cafe prepare take-away lunches April 7. In an effort to reduce the chance of COVID-19 infection, all staff members are now required to wear masks when preparing food.

“We’ve got more than a few units who are sending Soldiers to pick up carryout boxes for the whole unit,” Smith said.

He said minimizing the number of individuals in the dining facility goes a long way towards meeting the Army Public Health Department’s guidance in reducing the spread of the virus.

“Two Soldiers coming in is a lot safer than thirty,” Smith said, “so if I have to do a little extra work to make a hundred take out boxes then that’s the least of my worries. There’s so many out there that have it worse than us but the main thing I preach in this building is perspective — probably hourly.”

Other precautions include placing markers to indicate proper social distancing, personnel monitoring to ensure handwashing standards are met, and the removal of any devices that require patrons to touch the machine directly.

The Directorate of Public Works has also installed Plexiglas barriers at cash registers and on the dining facility serving lines.

“We took out the coffee, which probably didn’t make me popular,” Smith said. “But, hey, perspective.”

Pvt. 1st Class Jose Rivas, who works under Smith, said more than anything else he hopes people appreciate the hard work the staff puts in.

Sgt. Evan Ruchotzke/7th MPAD
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Smith, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army Europe, poses for a picture at the Strong Europe Cafe April 7. Smith is a recent addition to the garrison but said that he hopes to put the Strong Europe Cafe on the map as one of the best dining facilities in Europe.

Rivas said he hopes to open his own restaurant after finishing his first contract. The El Salvador native said the job has been harder than expected, but he is happy to get the opportunity to work in Europe.

“It’s exciting being here, but it’s hard being away from home,” Rivas said.

“The day goes by fast, but it’s hard work,” Rivas said. “Working out front you hear people complain that they don’t like something. That we serve the same thing too much. That they don’t like the food. It kinda hurts.”

“I hope people come forward to make the DFAC better,” he said, “because we’re putting our hearts into it out here.”

“Customer feedback is so important,” Smith said. “Good and bad, we need to hear it. We all have a buy-in here.”

“We’re going to start doing monthly meetings with service members to get feedback.”

Smith said he hopes with more chances for a conversation, he will be able to offer more opportunities to improve service members’ dining experience.

He also said he hopes to communicate effectively with the community daily.

“The biggest thing I want to push is that we’re on Facebook,” Smith said. “We want everyone to have the most up-to-date information. We’re still building it up, but any major changes will be put out there.

“If I could summarize my job in one word though, it would be ‘rewarding’,” he said. “After every meal I give my staff a round of applause. That might sound cheesy but they earn it.

“We have such a power in something as little as making a meal, but the amount of work you put in could affect a person’s whole day. That’s perspective. Even if it’s a thankless job sometimes, our work can affect a whole post.”

The Strong Europe Cafe Facebook page is available at

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