The R. G. Robinson Mess Hall, located on the south side of the base, is scheduled to reopen its doors to service members starting Feb. 1.
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- The mess hall was temporarily shut down Dec. 26, 2010 to make various improvements to the building’s interior and exterior.
“These buildings are made to last about 50 years,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Russell A. Johnson, station food service officer. “(The mess hall) never really went through many renovations. It was starting to show its age. It needed a new paint job.”
Some improvements which have been made include moving lavatories to the mess deck. Restrooms are now located at the front of the mess hall.
Previously they were located in an area that required patrons to travel through the galley area, causing a safety and sanitation concern.
Spacing was another matter which was improved in the remodeling of the Mess Hall. Dining seating was previously divided into different sections according to ranks, e.g., noncommissioned officer and officer eating sections.
“We had these separate little eating sections that chopped up the space in here,” said Johnson. “With that setup, we were able to only seat 240 to 250 people. We can actually seat 330 people comfortably now. We aren’t even pressed for space.”
When the previous iteration of the mess hall closed December 2010, it was met with some apprehension as service members who lived on the south side of the station had to figure out how to adjust their eating schedules and habits.
An initial solution was the designation of a Mess Hall only shuttle which ran in the evenings, Sundays through Saturdays.
Unfortunately, service members who wished for the convenience of eating in the mornings on the weekends and over holidays found themselves at the mercy of the regular shuttle, which has a considerably longer route and return time.
“At first it was good, we had a shuttle that went specifically to the northside Mess Hall but if you missed it, you had to wait,” said Lance Cpl. Michael E. Hicks, a Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron Installation Personnel Administration Center clerk. “It was inconvenient for service members to schedule everything around the bus to go to the northside Mess Hall.”
The closing of the southside Mess Hall also hit service members in their wallets.
The reasonable walking distance of the Crossroads Mall, coupled with the possibility of missing the shuttle to the northside Mess Hall often had a powerful influence on service members’ wallets and purses.
“Money is always a factor,” said Hicks. “It’s really just the inconvenience of asking ‘Do I really want to wake up this early?’ or ‘Is the bus going to be there?’ If you’re not in sync with the shuttle schedule, you’re just going to go to Crossroads. You’re going to pay for food from the Crossroads versus waiting for the shuttle.”
Some service members shared the sentiment of the bus schedule coming into direct conflict with their work responsibilities.
“I went to Crossroads every day,” said Lance Cpl. Kouassi J. Koffi, a Marine Aircraft Group 12 administrative specialist. “I don’t get off of work early enough some days to make it to either Mess Hall. The weekends are sometimes harder.”
The inconvenience of the shuttle, the difficulty of getting to the shuttle and the extra money service members who have meal cards spend at Crossroads was not something that was lost on Johnson and other leaders.
“Col. Stewart generously found money for us to renovate the temporary Mess Hall,” said Johnson. “Nobody likes to have anything closed and have to adjust their life to it. The fact of the matter is, by closing, they’re now getting something 10 times better than what they had, not just in ambience, but what we’re able to do to support the mission.”
The Mess Hall is scheduled to be open from 5:30-8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
“In some form or another, whether the snack line, main line or specialty bar, it will be open throughout that time,” said Johnson.
With the Mess Hall’s reopening finally on the horizon, service members can rest easy knowing their diet and food habits will once again be flexible.2Fmca