FORT DIX, NJ, UNITED STATES
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Williams
FORT DIX, N.J. – “The burners out,” a Soldier yelled from inside a compact Mobile Kitchen Trailer crammed full of food and supplies as teammates scramble around him.
As his supervisor inspected a gas cable connected to the burners, the food service specialist knows he had only minutes to swap a washer sink burner with the dead one, which meant the team would not have access to hot water.
In a matter of four hours, these Soldiers problem-solved multiple issues to feed one hundred hungry troops.
This field cooking event at Fort Dix, New Jersey, took place on May 4, 2019, as part of the annual Phillip A. Connelly award competition. The crew of five food service specialists belong to the 310th Military Police Battalion, headquartered in Farmingdale, New York, participating in one of the top culinary competitions in the Army to test their field feeding skills.
“I think the thing that hyped me up the most in this competition was the fact that we didn’t have enough of the equipment, so it was a challenge to make all of this work, but we actually did it,” said Spc. Andy D. Velez, one of the food service specialists on the team. “There was a lot more communication than we normally have in the kitchen in Farmingdale, but when we work in a smaller team we work better.”
The Phillip A. Connelly Awards Program challenges U.S. Army food service teams during field feeding evaluations testing Soldiers knowledge base of field sanitation, storage of rations, kitchen site layout, maintenance of equipment, and food preparation techniques. Established in 1968, the military culinary award promotes U.S. Army food service initiatives and provides food service teams a unique training opportunity, which impacts unit readiness and total force fitness.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Pamela R. Null, a senior food advisor with U.S. Army Reserve Command, said the competition is all about readiness. This is a version of a best warrior competition, specifically developed for U.S. Army cooks, she said.
“We’re looking at their whole food plan, from when they request the meal to the maintenance of their equipment, sanitation and training, and field sanitation teams who are in charge of the health of the whole unit,” Null said.
“We’re evaluating their culinary skills from following recipe cards to preparing the meals in a safe and clean environment, in addition to their food sanitation area and paperwork, which accounts for the government spending for food,” she said.
As a field feeding team assembled the meal, competition evaluators verbally tested Soldiers individually and as a group on their knowledge of ATP 4-41, which is the Army’s operation manual for food supply and feeding troops in the field. Null said the U.S. Army Reserve’s top priority is readiness, and this award program ensures Soldier readiness because it means they can deploy and operate in any field environment, with the support of their cooks.
Null said the competition distinguishes immediately units and Soldiers who train in a field environment regularly. In the field, Soldiers and teams strengthen their craft, no matter the specialty.
Velez, for example, said he learned everything from his fellow teammates who have instilled in him the desire to never buckle under pressure.
“We never gave up,” said Velez. “It was physically exhausting because yesterday we started working at 9 a.m. and didn’t get back to the barracks until 10 p.m., but as a Soldier, I can take away from the fact that no matter what the situation is we can still make it work and accomplish the mission.”
As the competition wore on, two buses pulled into the bivouac site, unloading a swarm of Soldiers who’ve worked up an appetite after finishing a morning full of range qualifications.
After opening up their chow line for business, the team encountered more questions from the evaluator blended in with other Soldiers in the food line. The verification of having a strong knowledge based on rations size, meal feeding temperatures, and nutritional data is demanded from the field feeding team as the evaluator continued to measure the group’s performance.
“When I sit down to do an evaluation sheet, I think of the team as a whole and how did the meal turn out,” said Null. “What I hope is if they missed something in the big picture of their responsibilities, they’re leaving here with more knowledge and know the regulations that govern food service.”
Velez said he was proud that his team after successfully preparing a meal of roast beef, green beans and mashed potatoes for more than one hundred Soldiers, but they need to get better for future missions.
“We need to practice and maintain our readiness, so when we do deploy we can do this every single day,” Velez said. “We need this competition to figure out what our weaknesses are, and just become stronger from it.”
As battle fields abroad continue to morph, the need for Soldiers to feed their own in any environment becomes more important than ever, as this competition prepares warrior chefs who are ready to feed the force.