YAKIMA TRAINING SITE, Wash. – The mess section of the 737th Transportation Company, a U.S. Army Reserve unit here, took part in one of the toughest competitions the service has to offer on June 15.
The Philip A. Connelly Awards Program is the Army’s ultimate cooking competition. Named in honor of a past president of the International Food Service Executives Association, the Connelly was begun in 1968 and takes in active Army, Army Reserve, and National Guard mess sections from across the globe in order to find the best.
Phillip A. Connelly is known as the person who led the charge to get IFSEA sponsorship for the Department of the Army’s recognition of excellence in Army food service.
Co-sponsored by DA and IFSEA, units are evaluated in one of five categories: large garrison, small garrison, and field kitchens in the Active Army, U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard.
Army Reserve units compete in the field category only, and are evaluated in a number of areas including food preparation, taste, nutrition, service and sanitation. Evaluators even grade the appearance and attitude of kitchen personnel.
The 737th’s section had set up in a field site here. Tents covered with camouflage nets – after all, this was a tactical feeding scenario – dotted the landscape, as soldiers scurried busily about. Everything was being made from scratch, and adding to the pressure of being evaluated were the time constraints.
“Making sure everything comes out on time is the hardest thing,” said Spc. Maria Barajas, of Ellensburg, Wash., a cook with the 737th.
Barajas, a member of the unit for six years, was taking part in her first Connelly competition. Inside the Mobile Kitchen Trailer, temperatures hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, a hot day made hotter by the stoves and ovens inside the trailer. Barajas was measuring flour, baking powder, water, and other ingredients in a large bowl, making handmade dinner rolls.
On the other side of the MKT, Pvt. Uriel Alejandro, of Yakima, Wash., was chopping a large batch of white onions, part of the French onion soup that would be part of the day’s menu, along with pot roast, potatoes, carrots, tossed salad, and homemade pineapple upside-down cake.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Pamela Null, a senior food advisor with the U.S. Army Reserve Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., and a Connelly evaluator, said the process is a long one, with a number of units taking part.
“We have 14 units to evaluate this year,” she said. “Last year, there were 17.”
The Connelly process lasts nearly a year, according to the Army Quartermaster School’s procedures manual.
From March until June, commands hold multi-level competitions that eventually select Department of the Army-level finalist in each of the categories.
In June through August, the Installation Management Command and Army commands send the lists of finalists to the Quartermaster Center and School at Fort Lee, Va.
From October to December, separate DA evaluation teams committees select a winner and runner-up in each of the five categories. The evaluation teams are made up by representatives from the IFSEA and the Quartermaster School.
During the 737th’s evaluation, soldiers lined up outside the MKT, waiting to see what their cooks had prepared for lunch in the field.
The pot roast, hot and juicy, covered in rich brown gravy, is an obvious hit.
“Wow, this is really good,” says one soldier in the dining tent set up for the occasion.
The tossed salad is cool and crisp, no small feat on a day where temperatures were hovering in the high 80s.
The scratch-made pineapple upside-down cake also turned out well. It’s very moist; something the cooks said is a challenge while working in the field. The cake, too, is a hit with the troops – and the evaluators.
“This is some of the best food we’ve had so far,” Null says. “I’m not kidding.”
After they’d finished feeding the company (and evaluators), the food service specialists of the 737th got ready to close their field site. Field sanitation is an important part of the competition, and the soldiers must make sure the area is completely cleaned before they can call it a day.
Once this is accomplished, tents and camouflage nets are pulled down, trailers hitched to trucks, and the food service section of the 737th Transportation Company heads for home, waiting to hear if they’ll make the list of finalists for the coveted Connelly Award.