EXETER, N.H. – In the middle of a bustling kitchen, two workers wearing uniforms stand out from the others.
New Hampshire National Guard Senior Airman John Hiki and Master Sgt. Chad Logan of the 157th Maintenance Group have been working in Exeter Hospital’s food and nutrition department for more than a month. They are a part of the New Hampshire National Guard’s latest COVID-19 relief mission, Operation Winter Surge.
“They have really been a lifesaver,” said Connie Gregoire, who works for the hospital’s food and nutrition services. “They came in and started doing a lot of the stuff we just don’t have the time to do because of manpower.”
The NHNG has 95 Airmen and Soldiers filling various roles such as administrative work and food services in 13 hospitals in the state. Gov. Chris Sununu activated another 100 members of the Guard to expand hospital support and assist at county nursing homes.
“It’s (been) huge,” said Beth Gats, administrative assistant at the hospital’s food and nutrition department. “We typically only have three diet aides, so having John and Chad filling the trays frees up the aides to deliver the food and prevent backlogs.”
From the minute they walk into the kitchen each morning, Hiki and Logan are constantly moving, making sure supplies are restocked, orders filled, and dishes washed.
“Yesterday, we plated 165 trays,” Hiki said. “Just this morning, we’re already at 84, plus the more than 600 items that need to be washed and stored.”
As they have both discovered, it’s not as easy as just preparing and plating food.
“Everything is very specific,” Gregoire said. “Every single order is very different for each patient’s dietary needs.”
One thing remains constant, however.
“The team down here is all so nice and appreciative,” Logan said. “It just feels good to know we’re in here making a difference.”
“I honestly just love helping where I can,” Hiki added. “I guess that’s just really what it means to serve, right?”