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NEWS | July 13, 2015

Army Reserve cooks get grilled

By Story by Sgt. 1st Class Stanley Maszczak 807th Medical Command (Deployed Support)

OGDEN, Utah -- Food service specialists from the 172nd Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support) were grilled all morning by two chief warrant officers from the Army Reserve Command’s food service office during the 172nd’s evaluation for the Philip A. Connolly Program competition, here. Soldiers planned, prepared, and served a lunch meal to approximately 70 personnel while being evaluated during the Army competition, which aims to promote and improve Army food service.

Evaluators peppered soldiers with questions throughout the morning as they used their Mobile Kitchen Trailer (MKT) and other equipment to produce a field lunch for more than 50 soldiers. Every so often, soldiers would hear something like, “What are you using to clean these surfaces?” “What’s in this sanitizer?” “Show me how you tested the water. What are you testing for?” “What’s the holding temperature here?” “Would this be considered cross-contamination?” and more.

One of the event’s evaluators, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kim Shiner, U.S. Army Reserve Command (USARC) food technician, said our most recent wars can give service members the impression that Army cooks are no longer necessary. Most service members in Iraq and Afghanistan have been stationed on larger Forward Operating Bases, or FOBs, which use larger, civilian-contracted dining facilities and personnel. But not all FOBs are big enough to have that kind of contract.

“I visited one FOB when I was in Iraq that was so small you could throw a baseball from one end to the other,” said Shiner. “They don’t get a contracted dining facility. A lot of the smaller FOBs throughout the region depend on soldiers operating these smaller MKTs for their meals.”

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kelly Sholes, food service technician for the 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support), shared that this competition is one way the Army keeps its cooks and the teams who support them highly trained, motivated, and constantly thinking about ways to achieve greater excellence in food service.

The day’s evaluation started around 6:30 a.m. and was both grueling and detailed. Chief Warrant Officer 5 Pamela Null, food advisor for the U.S. Army Reserve Command (USARC), and Shiner were on site observing soldiers as they set up every minute detail of their food service operation in order to determine point values for each of the 10 categories and many subcategories being evaluated. They included everything from field food safety, sanitation and food preparation, to the appearance and demeanor of food service soldiers, to how far away the portable restrooms are set up from the mobile kitchen. Here’s a hint: they have to be far -- at least 300 feet, which is close to the length of a football field -- and upwind. They have to be upwind.

With about 24 different Army regulations, field manuals, and Department of the Army pamphlets governing every aspect of field kitchen operations and food service, there is a lot to track.

Cooks, mechanics, and other soldiers from the 172nd worked together to make the meal happen: everything from pulling perimeter security for their simulated FOB as part of the exercise, to preparing hot and cold beverages, to cleaning and chopping fresh vegetables for the soup and salad, to making sure the chicken was prepared thoughtfully and cooked at proper temperatures.

All of this may sound fairly normal for kitchen activities until you think about an additional “field” factor: the kitchen trailer has no running water.

To clean the raw chicken, for example, Spc. Sheldon Brown, a food service specialist with the 172nd, opened the packages and placed the meat into a large strainer, which was inside an even larger pot. Spc. Daniel James, a laboratory technician on loan to the kitchen team, then picked up a heavy five-gallon water jug and started slowly pouring it all over the chicken as Brown ensured they were rinsed thoroughly.

“We’re just cleaning the chicken, getting it ready for marinating and refrigerating,” Brown said.

After a full morning of food preparation, soldiers served a lunch meal to a line of nearly 70 waiting to indulge.

Reviews of the meal came back overwhelmingly positive.

Pfc. Nicholas Van Oene, a preventive medicine specialist with the 200th Medical Detachment, shared that the chicken was “so good and juicy,” adding that, “it would be hard to pick my favorite part of the meal. Everything was so good!”

“I think the soup is my favorite,” Spc. Timothy Millaway, a power-generation equipment repairer with the 987th Blood Supply Detachment, chimed in. “It’s spot-on. The fresh vegetables and other stuff they put in it are just right. I even hate tomatoes, but I love this tomato soup.”

“The cake is my favorite part,” added Pfc. Pauleologos Chisulos, from the 987th.

After Null and Shiner finish evaluating all 10 Army Reserve units competing from across the nation, they will tally the scores and advance only four units to compete at the Department of the Army level.

“The main objective of this program is to train soldiers. They get their skills refreshed, are reminded of the standards and details, and become an even bigger asset to their wartime commanders. And other soldiers get to see just how much goes into cooking for our Army. It’s a lot more than people think, and it takes more than the cooks, dieticians and preventive medicine specialists to get it all done – there’s a lot of teamwork involved