News: Florida Guardsmen compete for national food service award
Story by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – There are few Army competitions where “taste” and “flavor” are major factors, but if you want to win the Philip A. Connelly award you had better be able to master both.
On Feb. 2, Florida National Guard soldiers from A Company, 779th Engineer Battalion (Forward Support Company) competed in the Philip A. Connelly Awards Program at their armory in Tallahassee. They hoped their culinary skills as food service specialists could bring mouthwatering results.
The prestigious national program is designed to recognize “excellence” in Army food service, and the Florida Soldiers made up the first of nine National Guard and Army Reserve teams competing this year for national-level accolades.
Last year the 779th Forward Support Company (FSC) placed first in state and regional-level tiers of the Connelly program, and this month they were testing their field kitchen skills in front of evaluators from the Army Reserves and National Guard Bureau.
“This is the number one competition for food service in the Army…It is pretty tough,” said United States Army Reserve Command Food Service Adviser Chief Warrant Officer Pamela Null, who was one of two evaluators monitoring the 779th during the competition.
Held in a field environment behind the Henry W. McMillan armory, the competition began early in the morning as the Soldiers worked from a containerized kitchen to prepare meals for 150 hungry Guardsmen. The evaluators watched closely as the FSC team prepared a meal that will hopefully put their names in the record books of Army food specialists.
The menu was prodigious, including: 150 braised pork chops; 12 gallons of Texas tortilla soup; 40 pounds of mashed potatoes; nearly 50 pounds of green peas with mushrooms; and 15.8 pounds of oatmeal raisin bars.
First Cook Staff Sgt. Kristen Kieffer, who controls the field kitchen operations and oversees the other cooks, said attention to detail and safety were two of the most important attributes needed to impress the evaluators.
She credited the 779th’s past successes at state and regional competitions to her team of cooks and specialists.
“The cooks know what they are doing and they do a great job,” Kieffer said. “…putting out a good product and feeding the Soldiers is really the number one mission for the cooks.”
Food service specialist Sgt. William Worden pointed out that preparing an award-winning meal for so many mouths could be stressful, but the 779th is used to accepting challenges.
“We’re really good at overcoming and adapting,” Worden said. “Whatever challenges, we face them and press on…Well trained Soldiers don’t get stressed out.”
Worden said the Guardsmen truly promote safety during their jobs, and he pointed out the potential dangers of the Army field kitchen – from scalding water and sizzling grills, to scores of razor-sharp kitchen knives.
“Like with any operation that the Army does, safety is of the utmost (concern),” he explained.
As the meal was served, FSC Commander Capt. Christopher Johns brought a small group of dignitaries – including Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management Bryan Koon and 83rd Troop Command Commander Brig. Gen. Michael Calhoun – to see the field kitchen operations and taste the results. The visit was an opportunity for Koon to see some of the resources the Florida National Guard is able to provide during state emergencies, which can include food service.
“This means a lot that Director Koon and the commanding general of the 83rd Troop Command are here,” Johns said. “It shows the command emphasis, which is actually one of the grading portions on the checklist of the competition.”
The winners of the Philip A. Connelly Awards Program will be announced later this spring after all the teams nationwide are evaluated, and the Florida team is hoping that its efforts pay off.
“We have a sense of pride because we are the 779th FSC cooks,” Worden added. “But it is a prestigious thing to win this competition – it’s like the Super Bowl of Army cooking.”