The people who cater for the morale of our air force

A No.3 Mobile Catering Squadron kitchen. By Lee Hellwing.
A No.3 Mobile Catering Squadron kitchen. By Lee Hellwing.

A squadron based at RAF Wittering is a pivotal part of ensuring that morale is high whether at home or abroad.

The No.3 Mobile Catering Squadron provides support for servicemen and woman both in the UK and overseas, whether they are attending an air crash, or are on an exercise in the Middle East .

Sgt Steve Harland, Sqn Ldr Steve Micklewight, Cpl Rebecca Davis and Flt Sgt Chris Dupee. By Lee Hellwing.

Sgt Steve Harland, Sqn Ldr Steve Micklewight, Cpl Rebecca Davis and Flt Sgt Chris Dupee. By Lee Hellwing.

They are currently supporting RAF personnel based in Cyprus who are fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq and in 2015 were deployed to an F18 crash site at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.

Using ration packs, the team will conjure up delicious meals that give recruits a taste of what they might like to eat at home, such as fish and chips and meat and vegetable pie.

Members of the squadron differ from other catering staff who are based in the mess hall because they are required to set up the kitchen first in the field.

If deployed, the team will set up kitchens under tents and, not only that, also co-ordinate all accommodation for troops based at the site.

Food the squadron makes. By Lee Hellwing.

Food the squadron makes. By Lee Hellwing.

Squadron members are made up of ‘chefs’ who are trained to prepare the food and stewards who help co-ordinate the kitchens and accommodation on site but are also trained to assist in the kitchens.

The squadron also provides a laundry service when it is deployed to locations and stewards are the ones who ensure that the laundry is completed with the squadron’s three industrial tumble driers and three industrial washing machines.

Squadron Leader, Steve Micklewright, said: “The food is no different to what you get in the messes. The difference is the environment which it is served and, more importantly, where it is prepared.

“We do require a high element of personal discipline and for them to be responsible for their own actions.

“Stewards have that ability to think more broadly than cooking.”

The equipment, known as ‘operational field catering’ is made of cooking equipment such as electric powered cookers, with a stove top which can double as a griddle and large multi-purpose cooking containers that can be used to cook food in and to do washing up.

Chris Dupee, Flight Sergeant, said: “It gives us the ability to go out into the field and cook for hundreds and hundreds of people.”

“We use the vessels as the footprint has to be kept to the absolute minimum.”

Trainees are taught how to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner and come from variety of backgrounds, varying from having experience working in restaurants to having no catering industry experience at all.

Those who wish to join the squadron spend two weeks of their 17 weeks of training there.

But before being able to join the squadron permanently, recruits must accrue a minimum of three years’ experience in the RAF so they can understand more about the squadrons they work with when they are deployed.

Jake Kelly, who has just completed his second week at RAF Wittering and had no cooking experience before he joined the RAF, said: “It is really good [working at the squadron], it is exciting.

“The creativity is the main thing I enjoy.

“It is more than that aspect of being in the kitchen, that is what I think is most exciting.”

Becky Davis, who has also just finished her spell at the base, had worked as a front of house before joining the RAF.

She said: “We get trained to do things the proper 
way and we also get to put our own swing on 
things. It is nice to learn the basics.”

After being deployed, it takes the team between four and six hours to provide hot meals

The catering staff have a budget of £3.52 for each recruit they have to make a meal for each troop and the meal has 4000 calories in it - much higher than the usual daily 2,500 for men and 2,000 for women on civvy street.

The unit is capable of catering for thousands of people and even served up food for more than 4000 military personnel and security staff from G4S during the London 2012 Olympics.

The catering squadron is part of the 85 Expeditionary Logistics Wing, who support them when they are deployed on locations by providing them with reservists to cover their roles once catering facilities have been set up.