For nearly two decades, his identity and origins remained a mystery to the US military. His face was plastered on base exchanges and internet forums around the world, his eyes fixed on a mustard-laden hot dog in front of him, his mouth hanging open, a soda gently cradled in his other hand. It’s a portrait of both immediate hunger and imminent gratification, an advertisement for the quick snacks that, whether the military wants to admit it or not, are the real fuel of the human weapon system. He’s the “AAFES Hot Dog Guy”, and his hunger knows no bounds.
In reality, his name is Robin Williams and he is the current Health Care Program Manager for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service – and after years of questions about his photo viral, its origin story is finally known to us.
In a July press release that I am embarrassed to have missed at the time of publication, AAFES Editor-in-Chief Robert Philpot details the extremely unlikely but hilarious origins of the AAFES Hot Dog Guy, who is first arrived at Exchange headquarters in 2004 as an active Air Force Senior Master Sergeant and the service’s public health and food safety liaison.
According to Philpot, Williams was assigned to the Exchange “at a time when food vulnerability and the potential for bioterrorist attacks on the nation’s food supply and the risk of targeting military installations in particular” in the aftermath of the crisis of September 11th terrorist attacks.
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Through her work improving the Air Force Food Safety Program, Williams met two key personnel: Reggie Dawson, AAFES Vice President for Consumables, and Michelle Nurse, a Buyer. who was working on the new “Snack Avenue” concept at the Stock Exchange then called Shopettes, which “not only served coffee and pre-packaged snacks, but also incorporated a new feature with a self-serve roller grill that cooked dishes such as taquitos and hot dogs for customers”. (And people say government innovation is dead.)
Collaboration is the magic behind most great innovations, and in the case of beloved photo AAFES Hot Dog Guy, teamwork truly made the dream work. While Dawson and Nurse were hard at work on a rebranding and advertising campaign for the new Snack Avenues as Exchange Shopettes, they brought in Williams for a relatively innocuous task: taking some photos for the concept menus.
This is where, according to Philpot, the crap comes out of the chain:
“One day Reggie called me and said, ‘Hey, we want you to take pictures for us,'” Williams said. “I was taken aback, but then asked what the photos were for, to which they replied, ‘It’s for a menu. As this was my first time working in retail, the only thing I could think of was, “Oh, they just want pictures for the restaurant upstairs in the building. Why not? It should be fun.’ At the time, I had completely forgotten how global the exchange was and also oblivious to the potential use of images for wider marketing.
Williams went to the photo studio, where he found an array of perfectly prepared and displayed dishes. He also met a woman who introduced herself as the “food makeup” person. “Wow, I had no idea such work existed,” he said. “I didn’t realize at the time that there was a whole art to preparing food for photos,” he said. Then the photoshoot started: “They said, ‘Hold the drink and act like you’re enjoying the hot dog.’ I thought, ‘That’s fun.’ We had a great time taking pictures.
After his impromptu photo shoot, Williams didn’t hear much from Dawson or Nurse until a few months later, when the couple informed him that the general managers at a conference liked his photos so much that they were planning to replace the long-existing menu board. photos in his image.
Williams “only expected the photo to be used in the headquarters restaurant, so he was quite surprised when they informed him that the menu boards were located above Snack Avenues, and the photo would end up end up in every Shoppette in the world,” writes Philpot. .
The image quickly went viral on military-focused internet forums before popping up in places like Reddit. During a deployment several years later that saw Williams travel between numerous DFACs downriver, young servicemen began approaching him, asking if he was the “Hot Dog Guy” and asking for pictures with him. .
Despite his relative notoriety in the ranks, the internet quickly became fascinated with the mystery of the AAFES Hot Dog Guy. The accordion got Philpot, one theory suggested the photo was taken as early as 1992. Others were convinced “it inspired a sight gag on the animated TV series ‘Rick and Morty'”. One artist even created a comic book inspired by Williams.
“There were positive comments, negative comments, funny comments, rude comments,” Williams told Philpot. “The usual for social networks.”
Despite the ridiculous attention given to him, Williams “has [remained] in a good mood” about his weird meme status in the ranks of the US military – although, as he told Philpot, he would rather be known for something else.
“Throughout my career, the one thing I try to leave behind when I move on to another assignment is a positive reputation that ‘Robin worked hard while he was here. committed to the work. He did his best,” Williams told Philpot. “I want my legacy to be that I helped others, as well as the organization, or left a positive impression that inspires people. others to be positive and successful as well.”
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