By Staff Sgt. Jacob Barreiro
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
First Lady Michelle Obama visited the Hercules Dining Facility here Feb. 9 to survey the pilot food transformation initiative program on base.
The visit was part of a three-day tour by the First Lady commemorating the second anniversary of her “Let’s Move!” program designed to combat childhood obesity.
In addition to hearing about the specific healthy eating efforts on base, the First Lady also made an announcement about the military’s drive to provide a variety of nutritious foods to all service members and their families.
“I am truly proud to be here today as the Department of Defense is making a groundbreaking commitment to the health of our troops and their families,” the First Lady said.
“And this is a big day,” she continued. “That’s why we brought all these people. It’s huge. As Dr. Woodson explained, for the first time in 20 years, the DOD is updating their nutritional standards to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy products with every single meal. So that means more DOD installations will offer the kind of fresh, healthy food that the Air Force’s Food Transformation Initiative helped bring here to Little Rock.”
Obama said the announcement meant that more DoD facilities will be able to provide service members the same variety of nutritious food available because of the FTI program on base.
“The DOD is also going to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of every single (American) military base to make sure they’re serving healthy food not just to those in uniform, but to their families,” the First Lady said. “They’ll be looking to improve the food served in dining facilities, school cafeterias, vending machines, snack bars and any other places where military families purchase food.”
“So this isn’t just a drop in the bucket,” Obama continued. “I mean, this is really a big splash. This will affect more than 1,000 dining facilities and nearly 1.5 million troops. Simply put, this is an example of America’s entire military once again stepping forward to lead by example.”
The First Lady said the service members of Little Rock have provided a model of what will be seen throughout the entire armed forces. She credited the base’s leadership with having the foresight to jump ahead, and the service members for doing their best to jump on board with the new program.
“So I want to make sure that you tell your families thank you, from me,” the First lady said at the end of her speech. “Tell them that we are proud of them all. We are working hard for them as well, because you all know that as you sacrifice, they are sacrificing right alongside you. So these benefits have to affect them as well.”
Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and director of Tricare Management, also delivered a speech at the Hercules DFAC to an assembly of base leaders, 19th Force Support Squadron Airmen cooks, and assorted Airmen from around the base.
“Obesity is a national challenge that can only be solved by a national effort,” the doctor said during his speech. “Although our service members and their families are healthier on average than the general population, the military is not isolated from the influence of poor nutritious choices, that are affecting the larger society.”
Woodson said the health problems related to obesity are more than enough reason for the DOD to turn its attention to a progressive nutritional awareness campaign.
The First Lady visited nearly 16 months after Little Rock Air Force Base adopted the FTI program, a pilot program designed to enhance food service quality, variety and availability to customers by overhauling the previous food service system. Previously the base food production model was a traditional cafeteria model. When surveys projected a low satisfaction rate among customers, the Air Force responded by introducing a new food model, the FTI.
Initial response to the FTI included an increase in customer satisfaction. According to a customer satisfaction survey, based on the American customer Satisfaction Index, overall satisfaction with dining facilities under the FTI increased from an aggregate score of 67 under the old model to a score of 75.
The nutritional value of food provided to service members and their families is an important issue for the White House, which maintains childhood obesity has become a national security issue, with more than one-quarter of the nation’s 17-24 year-olds too overweight to serve in the U.S. military. The Department of Defense also spends an estimated $1.4 billion per year on medical care associated with excess weight and obesity.