FORT HOOD, Texas – Before the sun ascends over the horizon and the major arteries of the post become flooded with vehicles, flames start to flicker on the stovetops, and the ovens start producing an intense heat.
Soldiers wearing white aprons mix, stir, bake and sauté to feed hungry service members their three daily meals.
The Operation Iraqi Freedom Dining Facility, which is run by the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, won the Philip A. Connelly Award for best DFAC on the installation March 4.
The Philip A. Connelly Award is an annual competition to recognize the best dining facility in a garrison environment and the best tactical kitchen in the field environment.
“We were inspected on how well the food was prepared, cooked and served,” said Sgt. Kenyaro Boyd, a supervisor at the OIF DFAC.
The leadership within the DFAC had the cooks produce the same meals for the competition as they would for any regular day. The goal was to avoid any new recipes or unpracticed styles of cooking.
“It was like any other day from open to close,” Boyd said. “We practiced and practiced until we perfected the recipes. It also helps when the soldiers are passionate about the food they produce.”
The soldiers are inspected every morning to ensure they are ready for the day’s meals.
“The supervisors look to see if the soldiers are clean shaven, have their hair within regulation, and if their uniforms were to standard,” said Staff Sgt. Rene Arana, the administrative noncommissioned officer in charge of the OIF dining facility. “On inspection day, everyone was ready. They got haircuts, had their uniforms pressed, and were ready to work.”
The cooks are informed which foods have to be out and when, and they are each assigned menu items to produce.
After receiving directions, the cooks go to the ration noncommissioned officer who determines the exact amount of what ingredients they need for their recipes.
“From there, they follow their recipe cards,” Arana said. “They follow the step-by-step instructions. If one part of the recipe is messed up, then the whole batch will be bad.”
The cooks are separated into one of four sections — meats, starches and vegetables, short order and the outside line.
The outside line consists of the yogurts, breads and the salad bar. Cooks in this section maintain the area ensuring that there is always food available. The short order part of the DFAC contains all the fast food.
Just like in home kitchens everywhere, cooking and serving food creates messes and clutter, but the OIF DFAC staff practices a “clean as you go” work ethic, which maintains cleanliness throughout the day. Cleanliness is not only part of the Connelly inspection, but an important part of running a kitchen.
“It’s very hard to keep the DFAC clean when you are serving more than 2,000 soldiers,” Arana said. “Having a clean area helps maintain a sanitized work environment and prevents us from having a bigger mess to clean at the end of the day.”
Following regulations and standard operating procedures are what helped the DFAC win the Connelly Award.
“Our leadership is great, because they enforce the standards,” Boyd said. “They care about the product and ensure NCOs do their job. When we point out deficiencies, the soldiers learn. Our leadership knows that paying attention to detail is how the soldiers learn to become better at what they do.”
During the inspection, food preparation and serving made up one of the focus points.
“We try each other’s food, so we can provide feedback, helping everyone perfect the recipes,” Arana said.
The rations office also played a role in winning the award. The rations office personnel issue food, keep track of what is in stock, and ensure ingredients are always available.
“We provide the exact amount of food necessary for the upcoming meals to make sure nothing is wasted,” said Spc. Ross Morehouse, a food service specialist who works in the rations office at the OIF DFAC. “We keep accountability of everything.”
Lastly, the administration office was inspected and this involves the finances of the DFAC.
“The hard part about it is making sure the amount of food that gets cooked matches the money that comes in from the head count,” Arana said. “We need for the paperwork to match the amount of food used.”
Regardless if the food is served, used in another meal or thrown away after expiration, the cooks are responsible for tracking where it goes and reporting that to the administration office.
“If the soldier preparing the food makes a mistake and ends up throwing it away, they are responsible for paying it back,” Arana said. “They see me fill out the necessary paperwork, and then they pay for it.”
The OIF DFAC is scheduled to compete against other DFACs on other installations throughout the nation.