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Mitchell Hall cook served top award

Michael Hoza stirs bubbling vegetables inside the Mitchell Hall dining facility at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Mitchell Hall staff serves more than 12,000 meals per day for cadets. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dave Ahlschwede)

Michael Hoza stirs bubbling vegetables inside the Mitchell Hall dining facility at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Mitchell Hall staff serves more than 12,000 meals per day for cadets. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dave Ahlschwede)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Michael Hoza lives in a silent world, but his disability hasn't slowed him down. 

An Air Force employee for more than 30 years, Mr. Hoza has been honored with the Air Force Special Act or Service Award and the Performance and Sustained Superior Performance awards. 

He has also been named recipient of the Air Force 2009 Outstanding Department of Defense Employee with a Disability Award. Col. Todd Robison, 10th Mission Support Group commander, presented Mr. Hoza the award and a coin May 13 in the Mitchell Hall kitchen where he is a cook. 

"It's a big honor," Mr. Hoza explained through Kendall Newell, interpreter with the Sign Language Network Inc. "I want to share it with my family and friends." 

He began working on the Academy as a janitor in the field house and dorms, moved to Mitchell Hall as a waiter and became a full-time cook this year. It is a position he readily and easily adapted to, using only written and visual instructions. 

He quickly learned to operate food prep equipment such as griddles, fryers, steam kettles, conventional and convection ovens and automatic meat slicers. 

Mr. Hoza prepares hundreds of pounds of frozen and fresh vegetables, plus sauces and gravies and over 400 box meals daily. He also assembles 4,500 salads and prepares specialty salads for salad bars and fruit trays for special occasions. 

Mr. Hoza became a Jacks Valley veteran during annual field feeding operations. 

"He was instrumental in helping other food service workers prepare and serve over 18,000 hot meals daily under austere field conditions," Frank Barfield, director of cadet food services, said. "He loves to cook and jumps at every opportunity to do so." 

Recently, Mr. Hoza was selected to prepare prime rib and grilled steaks for numerous special functions, assignments he was chosen for based on his positive attitude, dedication to duty, integrity and commitment to quality service. 

"Michael understands the mission, and he never complains or waivers from his responsibilities," Mr. Barfield said. "He is a self-driven, highly motivated worker who requires limited supervision." 

Mitchell Hall employees work in a fast-paced environment. They have to, with more than 12,000 meals to prepare each day. Working cooperatively is a must, and Mr. Hoza excels at it. 

"He is very nice and does everything to help other people," said co-worker Kiem Guffin. "He has a great sense of humor and always has jokes and laughter." 

She also said that Mr. Hoza is very knowledgeable, knows everything going on and lends his assistance in many areas of Mitch's operations. 

Clen Rollins, Mr. Hoza's supervisor, said he enjoys working with him. 

"He's very energetic and easy to get along with," he said and added Mr. Hoza is especially quick to catch on to new tasks. 

A science and astronomy buff, Mr. Hoza has accumulated more than 2,500 hours of sick leave but rarely calls in sick. 

He has always enjoyed working around cadets. 

"They are very friendly, and they can understand me very well," he said. 

His favorite foods to cook are chicken dishes and steaks, but he said he "doesn't mind" doing vegetables. 

What are his favorite foods to eat? 

"Chicken-fried steak. I like pork chops a lot, too," he explained. 

Off work Mondays and Tuesdays, Mr. Hoza indicated cooking is indeed hard work. 

"I get very tired. My feet hurt at the end of the day."