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Serving a taste of home

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- As a way to help first-term Airmen feel more at home during their birthday, the Thunderbird Inn Dining Facility here hosts a quarterly birthday meal, each uniquely themed to give Airmen an experience to remember.

Four times a year, Staff Sgt. Omar Medina, food services accountant, said that the dining facility, along with the 377th Services Squadron food services personnel, coordinates and conducts a special dinner for first-term Airmen celebrating birthdays within a three-month period. The most recent birthday meal was held at the Thunderbird Inn Dining Facility on Sept. 28.

"It's a great way that the food services personnel and the employees at the Thunderbird Inn Dining Facility can create an atmosphere and experience, along with some wonderful food, that the Airmen can enjoy, even though most have no family in town to celebrate with them," Sergeant Medina said. "It's not home for the Airmen, but we try to make it a close second.

"For a lot of the first-term Airmen, this is the first time away from home and they don't have their families here to throw them a party, so we try to fill in the gap. We try to make them feel at home."

Robert Vick Jr., the Thunderbird Inn Dining Facility manager, said September's birthday meal theme was "Fine Dining Night," which consisted of a six-course meal, formal attire and the music of a pianist and saxophonist.

"Each quarterly meal, we try to come up with a neat and unique theme -- this time we chose a formal night wherein the Airmen could dress up and experience fancy dining, which is maybe something they haven't experienced before," Mr. Vick said.

The birthday meals do not cost anything if you are a meal card holder, but if you aren't, then you do have to pay full price. Attendees are welcome to bring a guest.

The meal at Sept. 28's "Fine Dining Night" began with an appetizer of baked crab cakes. The soup of the meal was cream of broccoli and a small garden salad with roasted walnuts was served, Mr. Vick said.

"For the fourth course, we had a lemon zest sorbet that we made here, that was meant to cleanse the pallet. For the main course, there was a choice between stuffed prime rib, stuffed chicken breast and stuffed fish, in which the stuffing was made with pine nuts, cream cheese and basil -- it was extremely good. They loved it," he said.

The main course was served with steamed vegetables and a baked potato. Dessert was Bananas Fosters flambé.

"Also, for those celebrating a birthday, we make them a fudge cake," Mr. Vick said. Servers also went table-to-table making the Bananas Fosters flambé.

As a source of fun, base chiefs come up with questions about the Air Force and for those who come up with the right answers, prizes are given out, he continued. Ten prizes were award during this past meal celebration.

Mr. Vick, a musician, played the saxophone at the celebration and his wife played the piano.

In the past, depending on the theme, the services squadron hired a disc jockey or a mariachi band. Sometimes talent is enlisted from within the Air Force.

"Being an enlisted Airmen's dining facility, this is their home-away-from-home. We bring them together, those celebrating a birthday, to make it more like home for them," Mr. Vick said.

"Hopefully, we give the enlisted men and women something fantastic to remember for their first or second birthday in the military," he said. "Another great experience was having 377th Air Base Wing Commander, Col. Robert Suminsby Jr., and some of the base chiefs work as servers for a lot of the birthday meals, which makes it fun for the Airmen."

The next birthday meal is slotted for Jan. 25.