***image1***When it comes to going that extra mile in pursuit of providing customer service, Airman 1st Class Nickolas Caldwell has journeyed far – one table at a time.
If you eat at the Lindberg Hof dining facility at Kapaun Air Station, it’s almost a given that Airman Caldwell will drop by your table to share a smile and to ask about your meal.
Diners have responded to his honest concern, and their voices were heard all the way to U.S. Air Forces in Europe Headquarters by Gen. Tom Hobbins, USAFE commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Gary G. Coleman, USAFE command chief master sergeant.
In recognition of Airman Caldwell’s superior performance, General Hobbins presented the 20-year-old Texas native an Airmen Committed to Excellence coin Oct. 17 at a surprise ceremony in the newly opened Parish Enlisted Heritage Room.
“You always go that extra mile and we wanted to do something to show how we felt,” said General Hobbins during the presentation. “We just wanted to say thanks to a young man who makes a big difference in the lives of a lot of people.”
Most of those people are students at the Kisling NCO Academy situated adjacent to the dining hall. About 80 percent of the student body is at the school on temporary duty, so dining at the Lindberg Hof becomes a way of life during their six-week stay.
The food may be enjoyable, but the caring customer service displayed by Airman Caldwell is so noteworthy that it’s routinely mentioned by students on their end-of-course survey.
Their praise soon caught the attention of academy commandant Chief Master Sgt. Mike Warner, who said Airman Caldwell personifies the professionalism and values his instructors strive to instill in their students. The standards at the school can be demanding, so Chief Warner said fellowship offered by Airman Caldwell can help make their academy experience more pleasant.
“At the end of a tough day, he’s the guy who greets you and makes you feel welcomed. And he does it all with a smile on his face,” Chief Warner said.
It’s not just customers who appreciate Airman Caldwell. A former supervisor, Master Sgt. James Reed, said Airman Caldwell performs like a seasoned veteran who can always be counted on to ensure mealtime goes smoothly, from setting up the meal to closing down the dining hall.
“We need people like him in Services because you can go from jobs dealing with food to lodging to fitness, so customer service plays a big part in this career field,” said Sergeant Reed.
A commitment to caring began at an early age for Airman Caldwell, who grew up in Cleburne, Texas, helping support a struggling single mom with two children. As the man of the family, Airman Caldwell said it often fell to him to help keep things together.
There was never the time or money for things most teenagers enjoyed, but in junior high someone gave him a worn out guitar that helped fulfill an ambition to play music. After turning 17, he fulfilled another lifelong goal of joining the military.
At basic military training, Airman Caldwell said he was surprised there wasn’t the camaraderie and feeling of brotherhood he expected. As someone accustomed to walking down the street saying hello to everyone, he decided to change that.
And he has, strolling from one table to the next in his white chef’s coat, blue pants and combat boots, saying hello to customers, asking how their day is going and if they’re enjoying their meal.
“I like doing that. I’ve always liked helping people. I’d expect the same thing.” And he especially liked the opportunity to ply his trade while deployed to Manas, Kyrgyzstan, where he had the opportunity to help brighten the day for Airmen and Soldiers who entered the dining hall with a big appetite and a perhaps a frown on their face after a hard day or simply from missing loved ones back home.
He is often successful, but realizes there will always be those who don’t necessarily appreciate Services workers or realize the complexity of a career field that even encompasses mortuary affairs. Although Airman Caldwell has never been officially assigned mortuary duties, he has volunteered in his off-duty time both here at Ramstein and Manas.
He assisted with the movement of a deceased Soldier from downrange, whose aircraft stopped at Ramstein en route to the United States.
It was an emotional event for Airman Caldwell when he realized he shared the same rank and was about the same age as his Army counterpart.
Airman Caldwell said he wants to keep on serving, and is interested in pursuing a career as a firefighter either in the Air Force or as a civilian. In the meantime, he’ll keep pursuing a college degree and his love for music. And of course, he’ll keep taking care of his customers, one table at a time.