In both mission and configuration, you will find no comparable organization to the Joint Staff. This is quite literally the highest level of organizational management, at the absolute pinnacle of each branch, for the world’s most powerful military! The challenges are immense and the consequences unequivocal. Nevertheless, across the entire spectrum of varied and dynamic billets in the “Joint environment,” I’m convinced that I have one of the most unique and impactful jobs. Yes, you read that correctly. This lowly O-3, tucked away in a broom closet of an office deep in the bowels of the Pentagon, has been entrusted with that most precious and influential of strategic initiatives: General Dempsey’s lunch.
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Chairman's Dining Room. (L-R) CS1 Joseph Bailey, Chef; MSG Frederick Massey, NCOIC; Lt. Kevin Powers, OIC; CSC Eric Peters, Executive Chef. (Photograph by SSG Isaac Kinney)
But I promise you, there’s more to it than just that.
You see, I serve as the officer in charge of the Chairman’s dining room (CDR), or the “Chairman’s FSO” in Supply-speak. The primary duty of the CDR is to provide both an elegant and secure dining facility where the Chairman and Vice Chairman can host special functions for foreign dignitaries, official visitors, and other guests as necessary in the execution of the responsibilities of their office. Additionally, and at the discretion of the Chairman, we provide service for other senior personnel on the Joint Staff in support of official business.
From a Supply Officer’s perspective, the day-to-day tasks of managing the military’s premier dining facility are quite familiar. Any first tour division officer would recognize and relate to the operational, finance, staffing, and maintenance responsibilities of the job. What distinguish our food service operation from the rest is the level of clientele at the table and the significance of their engagement.
I honestly can’t recall a single day’s work that hasn’t been professionally beneficial or personally gratifying. Whether it’s a member of Congress crossing the Potomac to discuss next year’s budget, or a foreign chief of defense flying around the globe to strengthen our alliance, a delicious meal presented in a relaxing environment can be the critical first impression that leads to a successful interaction. Then there are the events of even greater substance. The CDR has had the privilege of supporting countless events in honor of our wounded warriors, family members of fallen heroes, and multiple generations of combat veterans. I can think of no experience more humbling or rewarding.
But that’s not to say there aren’t challenges. The CDR is, in every sense of the word, a private dining facility. Designated a Non-Appropriated Fund Instrumentality (NAFI), we are expected to operate just as any other commercial establishment. While the autonomy of a NAFI has many benefits, it also signifies how little support we can count on if we get into trouble. As an example, all of our food, kitchen supplies, and other incidental expenses are funded exclusively by operating income. If a reefer goes down, we pay to repair or replace the equipment. There is no DD-200 form that can be submitted to survey lost inventory either. If the costs can’t be covered, we can’t operate, and I have a difficult conversation with the Chairman’s XO. As such, financial efficiency and self-sustainability are essential to mitigating the risk of unforeseen events. In the current fiscally austere climate, where “do-more-with-less” is the rule, this poses a mounting challenge. But therein lays the opportunity, as well. Autonomy does, after all, have its benefits.
Permitted to act creatively, this position has all the flexibility and latitude necessary to execute preemptive solutions. There’s more operational agility outside the constraints of a traditional command structure. Sure, there’s nowhere to unload the difficulties. But managerial independence, coupled with a galvanized team of talented NCOs, offers the satisfaction of owning the solutions. Under these conditions, problem solving becomes a virtuous cycle, where each experience – no matter the difficulty – builds on the last. So that eventually, challenges are addressed before they even appear on the horizon.
Finally, my particular turn at this desk follows a long heritage that I feel an obligation to maintain. The CDR has been led by a Navy Supply Corps officer since 1965. Since then our community has served over a dozen chairmen in a rather unique and direct capacity, exhibiting for nearly half a century our reputation for unparalleled resourcefulness, ingenuity, and leadership. Looking beyond this particular assignment, I know the lessons and experiences I’ve gained as a relatively junior officer will continue to pay dividends as additional responsibilities present themselves.
Arriving at the Joint Staff after a GSA to Afghanistan, I assumed I’d be trading some of the excitement of my previous tour for the relaxed atmosphere one typically associates with shore duty. But after two years aboard I can see just how wrong I was. The magnitude and consequence of our mission on the Joint Staff permeates through the entire chain-of-command. From the junior non-commissioned officers, up to the four-star leadership, no assignment is trivial, no duty is routine, and no day looks like the last.
By Lt. Kevin M. Powers, Officer in Charge, Chairman’s Dining Room, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff