Togetherness, history and diversity celebrated at base Soul Food event

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- In celebration of Black History Month, members of the Gunfighter team came together to enjoy a wide array of foods during the Soul Food Taste Fest at the Gunfighter Service Center, Feb. 5.

Though traditional cuisine dubbed 'Soul Food' was the highlight of the event, the real cause was to boast diversity, while observing the tradition, history and culture of black Americans.

"We had a very diverse crowd that showed up today for an African-American observance and I think what that does is symbolize how the Air Force is one of the greatest organizations in the world," said Lt. Col. Michael Lawrence, 366th Maintenance Group commander. "It takes people from a variety of backgrounds, gives them a skill, and gives them a common goal and we can all be successful regardless of where we come from or what our gender is, and all play a part in what this nation has to do."
The sentiment was shared by junior enlisted Airmen, as well.

"Events like this are important to the Air Force because they bring all Airmen together by providing things all Airmen enjoy," said Senior Airman Romeh Badr, 366th Comptroller Squadron budget analyst.

These events are really about togetherness, added Badr.

"The thing that I hope people walk away with is the fact that we are not as different as some might think," said Lawrence. "It's opportunities that were presented by the Taste Fest that actually let us know how close and similar we really are. Regardless of your skin color, regardless of your gender, we can find a huge number of similarities that can bring us together."

Celebrations of diversity are sought after today, but such events were not always the case. The road to our present was paved with a great deal of sacrifice, something black Americans understand well.

"The history of soul food derived from southern dishes during the American slavery era," said Tech. Sgt. Altasia Johnson, 366th Fighter Wing knowledge operations manager. "It's an African-American cuisine and soul food mostly known as Southern or comfort food, it is the foundation for bringing back memories of family dinners and special celebrations."

The Taste Fest was really able to highlight this bit of history.

"All people should be mindful that great strides have been made; that people paid the ultimate price for some of the opportunities enjoyed today by all segments of our society," said Chaplain (Capt.) John Appiah, 366th Fighter Wing chaplain. "It's every person's responsibility to do their part to make our society better."

On a lighter note, the chaplain noted, "I did enjoy the food and all the people who participated along with the stories they shared."

The planning took months, but culminated in a world-class Gunfighter event.

"The taste fest started a few years ago when the Black/African-American Heritage Committee wanted to showcase the history of soul food to the MHAFB community," said Johnson. "We wanted to share our love for delicious, southern home cooked food that some people enjoy or may have never tasted before."

The array of food was varied.

"We had chicken of all sorts, different types of dressing, macaroni pie, potato salad, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, dirty rice, and the list could go on," said 2nd Lt. Lawrence Thomas, 366th Force Support Squadron Force Management officer in-charge. "Of course we want everyone to come and enjoy the food, but also we want them to come and enjoy the culture and learn more."

The event highlighted the cultural significance of the food served.

"The Taste Fest is important to Black History Month because food is some of the defining characteristics of any group of people," said Appiah. "People who share a common history, also share a similar story that can be told during festivals. For example, there were portraits on display and one cannot help but look and wonder in silence or out loud what contribution each individual made to the purpose of our gathering."

"The slaves had to create their own dishes from the leftovers that their masters did not eat," said Johnson. "They often exchanged recipes verbally. Today, many Southerners still cook without a recipe, just by simply remembering main ingredients and adding seasoning to their taste which led to the development of African American cuisine. This way of cooking has produced many great cooks and that is what soul food cooking is all about."

Some arrived for one reason, but left with a whole new understanding of the event.

"I originally attended the taste fest to get a little taste of home," said Badr, who admitted his perspective quickly changed after a speech given by Col. Byron Anderson's, 366th FW vice commander. "Once Colonel Anderson spoke, I realized that the taste fest was much more than just food; it was a representation of Black History Month."

Airmen of all races, genders and ages participated, proving the event was much more than just delicious food.

"Oddly enough, my favorite part of the event wasn't the food itself," said Chief Master Sgt. Alexander Del Valle, 366th FW command chief. "Rather it was seeing different people come together to put on an event that recognizes the history and traditions of one of the cultures that makes America what it is. But being from Georgia, I can't deny I was in hog heaven eating the delicious food!"

From those with the darkest skin tones to those of the lightest, and all shades between, Airmanship and camaraderie are celebrated through diversity, and these attributes are strongest here in Gunfighter Country.