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SERVICE with an altitude

Staff Sgt. Nichole Griffith's student handbook sits next to her specially-prepared muslin feta walnut salad ready to be served as a preliminary to the main course. (Photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Staff Sgt. Nichole Griffith's student handbook sits next to her specially-prepared muslin feta walnut salad ready to be served as a preliminary to the main course. (Photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Technical Sgt. Jon Jackson evaluates students' mock evacuation procedures from the trainer aircraft, nicknamed "Speckled Trout," from the flight deck. Jackson is an instructor with the Basic Flight Attendant Course at JBSA-Lackland. (Photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Technical Sgt. Jon Jackson evaluates students' mock evacuation procedures from the trainer aircraft, nicknamed "Speckled Trout," from the flight deck. Jackson is an instructor with the Basic Flight Attendant Course at JBSA-Lackland. (Photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Airman 1st Class Christina Hall (center), and Staff Sgts. Demarious Beard and Sheila Fitzgerald prepare the dinner portion of a three-course gourmet meal for Gen. Edward A. Rice, his wife Teresa and staffers aboard the Boeing KC135 trainer aircraft, nicknamed "Speckled Trout." These student flight attendants are practicing their service techniques as part of a flight attendant class at JBSA-Lackland. (Photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Airman 1st Class Christina Hall (center), and Staff Sgts. Demarious Beard and Sheila Fitzgerald prepare the dinner portion of a three-course gourmet meal for Gen. Edward A. Rice, his wife Teresa and staffers aboard the Boeing KC135 trainer aircraft, nicknamed "Speckled Trout." These student flight attendants are practicing their service techniques as part of a flight attendant class at JBSA-Lackland. (Photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Senior Airman Monique Nelson practices emergency evacuation procedures from the trainer aircraft during a water evacuation while Senior Airman Jaqueline Shelton observes.  (Photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Senior Airman Monique Nelson practices emergency evacuation procedures from the trainer aircraft during a water evacuation while Senior Airman Jaqueline Shelton observes. (Photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Students in the Basic Flight Attendant Course practice an accountability exercise after a mock ditching emergency procedure. Students in the Basic Flight Attendant Course learn everything from preparing three-course gourmet meals for future top-level passengers to evacuation procedures in case of in-flight emergencies. (Photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Students in the Basic Flight Attendant Course practice an accountability exercise after a mock ditching emergency procedure. Students in the Basic Flight Attendant Course learn everything from preparing three-course gourmet meals for future top-level passengers to evacuation procedures in case of in-flight emergencies. (Photo by Robbin Cresswell)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- When America's top government officials and uniformed leaders travel by military air, in-flight support comes from graduates of the Basic Flight Attendant Course, 344th Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

The class trains Air Force members as flight attendants to deliver prepared, gourmet meals (not the pre-packaged airline fare), with food storage and proper handling, to care for passengers, manage the manifest, clean the aircraft after landing and with evacuation procedures in case of in-flight emergencies.

"We're a full service aircrew in the back of the jet," said Senior Master Sgt. Shannon Hughes, 344th TRS operations superintendent and a U.S. Air Force flight attendant for 12 years.

The journey to become an Air Force flight attendant begins with an extensive week-long application and selection process at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Applicants must be at least a Senior Airman and 21 years old. Those selected start with a five-week long Basic Flight Attendant Course at JBSA-Lackland. After graduating from the JBSA-Lackland class, students must then pass Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape or SERE school at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.

After SERE school, students arrive at their duty stations for additional training on the particular airframe each has been assigned. More on-the-job training follows for full qualification as a flight attendant and at that time students are recommended to keep their wings after passing a final evaluation ride.

"They get their wings here (at JBSA-Lackland), but they don't become permanent until they get to their first airframe," said Tech. Sgt. Cheneldra Moore, a course instructor.

"Part of the graduation requirement (at JBSA-Lackland) is to plan, shop, prepare, cook and serve six, three-course meals," said Lt. Col. Thomas Strassberger, 344th TRS commander.

The class is small, limited to six students, giving each a chance to learn the entire process of gourmet meal preparation. Career field demand determines the number of classes held each year at JBSA-Lackland.

"They also learn the different jobs within that process," Strassberger said, adding that in a class of six, three will cook, while three serve a meal, and then each team switches duties.

A recent class focused on preparing a breakfast of French toast, scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, yogurt parfait, orange juice and coffee; a lunch with a buffalo chicken "French dip" sandwich, steak fries, carrots, celery sticks with ranch dressing, a brownie, beverage and coffee; and a dinner of spinach-blue cheese stuffed filet mignon, rosemary crusted potatoes, warm roasted vegetable salad, strawberry salad with pecans and feta cheese, cheese cake, roll, beverage and coffee.

The initial four meals are served to the willing and hungry, lucky enough to be passing by class at the right time. Students prepare and serve their final two meals to distinguished visitors and guests who provide critiques and feedback about their services.

Students also train on the squadron's Boeing KC-135 where they learn to work in confined spaces. The aircraft was once part of the presidential fleet.

"It gives a realistic approach to the limitations on an aircraft," Hughes said.

About 300 active duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen serve as Air Force flight attendants with the majority assigned to JB-Andrews.

"Not many people even know we exist," said Hughes. "We are a selectively hired, selectively manned career field."