He sighs as he reads his most recent orders; the future didn’t feel too promising.
It was the year 1966, and newly enlisted Airman Thomas Perry, 786th Force Support Squadron cook, had planned on spending Christmas relaxing but instead received orders that deemed it crucial to arrive at his first base before Christmas.
On Dec. 22, Perry arrived at Ramstein Air Base to two feet of snow, no one to greet him as he got off the bus and no signs of inprocessing or work until after the holiday.
Despite a less than auspicious start, 48 years of service later, Perry stood before his closest friends and family as he retired from the Lindberg Hof Dining Facility on Kapaun Air Station.
The Chicago native spent his entire four-year enlistment and 44 years of service as a civilian in Germany, all but one year within the Kaiserslautern Military Community.
Between the several dining facilities in Ramstein and Saarbruecken where Perry served, he experienced major changes in the way the dining facilities worked, from hand-washing dishes and shopping at the commissary for supplies to clippers and prime vendor deliveries.
“He entered at the height of the Cold War, served through the reunification of Germany and the creation of the European Union,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Huibregtse, 786 FSS commander. “Like many of us, he chose to serve during a time of immense international tension.”
Perry was stationed here at the time of the 1988 Airshow disaster, was on lockdown for three days during an incident between then Czechoslovakia and Russia, and in 1981 when a bomb exploded near the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Headquarters building.
Perry met his wife, Leonie, in 1992 at the Castle Garden Dining Facility, where he was nominated for the USAFE Cook of the Year award. He won the award the next year and considers it one of his greatest achievements.
“That award was really something for me,” Perry said. “Throughout the years of being a cook, it felt great to have the support of my wife. I wouldn’t have been able to make it without her.”
He continued to show his support and strength by serving service members throughout Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, as well.
“Operation Desert Storm was a big deal; we prepared a lot of meals for that and got the chance to meet some of the heroes of that operation,” Perry said. “It was pretty cool.”
Perry says the comraderie, working with people, the importance of the Air Force mission and, most of all, working with the Airmen were what motivated him to be the best cook he could be.
“What kept me going was the young Airmen; I tried to instill in them my work ethic, and I tried to give them a few tips on the way,” Perry said. “I want them to take pride in their job. Cooking might not be considered the greatest job, but it’s definitely an important one, and I want the Airmen to understand that.”
Retiring at the top of his game, Perry was the Lindberg Hof’s top chef the last nine years before his retirement.
He wasn’t just a cook but also a singer, mentor and avid writer.
As a singer, Perry was part of an Air Force choral group and had the opportunity to visit Checkpoint Charlie when it wasn’t a tourist attraction.
As a mentor, he got Airmen interested in their job as he helped to guide their understanding of its importance and purpose.
Airman 1st Class Taylor Messer, 786 FSS food service apprentice, spent the last year looking up to Perry, going to him for guidance in the kitchen as he worked on cooking technique and sharpening his skills.
“He’s taught me everything I know today,” Messer said. “He’s my idol in the kitchen and has never steered me in the wrong direction.”
As he and his wife prepare for life after retirement, Perry looks forward to the future that involves travel plans, writing and relaxing.
“I’ll miss everything, but I’m looking forward to the next chapter,” Perry said. “We’ve had times there at the beginning of my career where we didn’t make that much money, but we hung in there and worked it out. Now we can enjoy the rest of our days, however long that might be.”