EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, ALASKA --
Since 1956 the U.S. Air Force food services staff have been recognized through the John L. Hennessy Awards program. This year an Airman from Eielson Air Force Base was recognized for her superior performance, work ethic and overall culinary skill.
Airman 1st Class Guadalupe Estrada, a 354th Force Support Squadron food services apprentice, was awarded the Hennessy Traveler Award, considered the highest level of achievement by those in the dining facility.
“The Hennessy Traveler Award is granted to one member from each base that is nominated for the Air Force John L. Hennessy Award,” said Master Sgt. Shawn McCahon, the 354th FSS dining facility manager.
Estrada attributes earning the award to her love for cooking which stems from a pilgrimage she made to culinary schools as a teenager.
“I visited the Culinary Institute of America in New York and Johnson and Whales in Rhode Island when I was in my junior year of high school,” said Estrada.
These school visits ignited her passion for culinary arts and established her goals for the future.
“While I was shadowing one of the students at Johnson and Whales, I saw a few of the different culinary courses, but the one that really caught my attention was the class dedicated to chocolate,” Estrada said. “That’s when I really fell in love with baking. I bake a lot in my off time for myself and my husband.”
To attain her dream of being a professional chef though, she first had to find a way to pay for her education.
“I couldn’t afford to go to classes when I graduated high school,” said Estrada. “So I went to speak with a recruiter and chose to enter into the Air Force as a services airman so that I’d be able to do what I love, while also serving my country.”
Military service also comes with plethora of education benefits, such as tuition assistance while serving and the G.I. Bill for members who serve at least three years. By taking advantage of these programs, Estrada has already began her education in culinary arts.
“I’ve taken culinary courses at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but I hope to get a degree from the Culinary Institute of America after I finish my service commitment with the Air Force,” she said.
When asked about receiving the award, Estrada mentioned it was a very moving experience for her, even saying it made her cry. Her tears were that of joy, however, due to the realization of her dream to attend one of the top culinary schools in the country.
“Airmen awarded the Hennessy Traveler Award have the opportunity to go to the Culinary Institute of America where they receive hands-on training from professional chefs,” said McCahon.
With her success Estrada remains humble and she was quick to show thanks for her coworkers.
“This award means everything to me,” she said. “But I wouldn’t have been given this opportunity without the other Airmen at the dining facility because it’s truly a team effort.”
Through dedication, love for her job and the help of her team, Estrada has managed to realize her dream of attending the Culinary Institute of America and come one step closer to reaching her dream of becoming a chef.