Story by Sgt. 1st Class Neil Simmons
451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command
HASTINGS, Neb. – In a field at Greenlief Training Site here, camouflage netting concealed the activities of a group of Army Reserve soldiers before dawn Oct. 20. Sentries patrolled the perimeter of the carefully prepared site, while others challenged entrance to the interior, but all these preparations were not meant to protect as much as they were to impress. This is because members of the 295th Ordnance Company want to prove they have what it takes to be the best food service specialists in the Army Reserve.
The 295th, located in Hastings, Neb., and commanded by Capt. Wendy Hansen, is competing in the Philip A. Connelly competition. The Connelly competition is an awards program established in March 1968 to recognize excellence in Army food service and improve professionalism. It is named for the late Philip A. Connelly, former International Food Service Executives Association president who was responsible for obtaining IFSEA’s sponsorship with the Army.
IFSEA is the food service industry’s oldest trade association, organized in 1901. Stanley Gibson, a certified food executive and IFSEA representative, served as one of the three evaluators during this competition. He has volunteered for six Connelly competitions and strongly believes in the value of the program.
“To me, this is the most important external event IFSEA does,” said Gibson. “This program is so important, any time I can volunteer, I will.”
Gibson explained that simulating real-world conditions and site selection are just two of nearly 1,000 items the evaluators inspected as part of the competition. Other items included food preparation, taste, service, and sanitation.
Soldiers from the 295th prepared and trained for months to get to the final level of the Connelly competition. They advanced through two lower levels to earn a place as one of four units nominated in the Army Reserve Field Kitchen Category. This category is one of five offered in the Connelly competition, and the only one specifically for the Army Reserve.
As expected, everything in a field kitchen must be mobile and quick to setup, including the food sanitation tent, the refrigeration unit, and of course the mobile kitchen trailer.
According to Staff Sgt. Paul League, non-commissioned officer in charge of the field sanitation team, the MKT served as the 295th competition site’s hub, and considerable time went into where the unit should position each piece of equipment to meet Army guidance. He and other soldiers from the 295th battled severe wind and cold in the days leading up to the competition to keep the site ready for the competition.
“I’m just glad the wind died down today,” said League with a grin.
With all the preparations in order, the focus of the day was truly on the food and the soldiers who prepared it. Leading the 295th food operations team was Sgt. 1st Class Jane Stark, senior food operations sergeant, who spent time escorting the evaluators around the site and answering questions.
Inside the MKT, four soldiers worked for more than five hours preparing a nutritious and tasty noon meal: Sgt. Dustin Schroeder, food operations manager; Sgt. Kenton Fuller, food operations non-commissioned officer, as well as Spc. Jason Nasr and Pfc. Joshua Capps, both food service specialists.
The team prepared the same meal at each level of competition consisting of salad, soup, sweet and sour chicken, vegetable stir fry, lyonnaise rice, and Asian pear cake. However, with so many requirements in preparing the food, they could not let over confidence set in. Even Nasr, who has the most impressive culinary résumé among the MKT crew, sees a difference in how the Army prepares food.
“It is much more structured with the production schedule and timeliness we have to meet and follow,” said Nasr, who has been cooking for 16 years in various civilian occupations. He also noted how sanitation requirements were more extensive in the Army. “Better to keep people safe than risk anything,” he added.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kim Shiner, the food program manager for the 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command, offered insight into why sanitation is so critical in Army food service.
“We have to have higher standards [than civilian restaurants] because as stress levels go up, the immunity goes down,” said Shiner. Soldiers who get sick from food are not able to perform their duties, reducing the readiness of the unit and its ability to do its mission. This can be extremely detrimental in a combat environment.
After all the 295th’s work, how was the food? Soldiers seemed impressed.
“The rice had a lot of flavor, and the chicken was moist with excellent texture,” said Sgt. Jeremiah Richardson, operations non-commissioned officer for the 366th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.
However, the true question is how well the 295th’s efforts stack up against the other Army Reserve units in the competition. They will have to wait until January, when IFSEA is scheduled to announce the winners.
Soldiers from units selected as winners and runner-ups in each category will travel to Dallas in April to attend the annual IFSEA international food service conference. While there, they will receive several days of culinary training, meet with food vendors, and attend the Connelly awards ceremony.