ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – Sgt. 1st Class Cesar Sumauang has served in the military of two nations as both a combat arms Soldier and a culinary specialist. He has proven proficient with both weapons and utensils, approaching all his jobs as skills to be mastered. He brings a ready smile and pleasing disposition to First Army headquarters, where he is best known by his nickname “Sammy.”
While he known for many things, he is most recently recognized as the winner of the Enlisted Aide of the Year competition, held at the 45th Annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise from March 7-12 at Fort Lee, Va. Sumauang took top prize in his category for his exemplary performances before a board, on a written exam, assembling an Army Service Uniform, and preparing and presenting food.
The competition measured excellence in the field of the Enlisted Aide. Aides like Sumauang help keep a busy General’s schedule flowing smoothly. They maintain the General’s uniform, may plan and execute military and social events, set tables to precise standards, and prepare four-course gourmet meals, all the way from selecting the food in a grocery store to presenting the final product to the General Officer and guests. Aides may also perform household management to include upkeep and preservation of the quarters. All this gives busy General Officers who face incessant demands on their time a little less to worry about. The exercise also presents an opportunity to recognize the contribution of nutrition to readiness and fitness.
Sumauang’s journey to the top of this field began in his native Philippines, where he served as an infantry officer, continuing a family tradition of military service. Sammy moved to the United States in 2004 and has been serving in the U.S. Army for 14 years, all in the culinary arts field except for time spent on the drill sergeant trail.
He has displayed acumen wherever he’s gone, winning culinary medals and earning an air assault badge. After a dozen years of stellar performance, Sumauang was selected to serve as the Enlisted Aide to the First Army Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Thomas James Jr.
“I love it, it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” Sumauang said. “Our general is all about the families and the workers.”
Sammy has brought that energy and passion to all of his Army assignments and remains determined to refine his role and master his craft.
“Everything that I’ve done I try do above and beyond,” he said. “I always want to accomplish the mission. Wherever the Army takes me, I want to give it my best. When I joined the Army, I didn’t care what job I had, I just wanted to succeed and make a difference.”
He has done that, as winning Enlisted Aide of the Year demonstrates. He credits the Army’s focus on discipline and preparation with helping him succeed.
Those traits proved worthwhile at the competition, as he went against some of the best culinary specialists in the Army and its sister services. Entrants were tested on sanitation, ironing, uniform assembly, sewing, napkin folding, table setting, housekeeping, and protocol.
“Everything is hard,” Sumaunag conceded. “The board is nerve-racking and the uniform assembly has time pressure.” That portion of the contest, Sammy continued, consisted of assembling a notional general officer’s uniform.
“All the equipment is in a box, all the ribbons are scattered, not put together. The rack is separated. You have to identify where you are going to put the ribbons and badges with the proper measurement and then you need to assemble it within 30 minutes.”
Ribbons, badges, and accouterments need to be in a specific place and spaced a certain distance apart. These exacting standards highlight the value Enlisted Aides bring to a general, whose uniform needs to be impeccable.
As to the food preparation, Sumauang said he and the others were “judged on the presentation, the color of your plates, how it looks, the taste, dicing, and so on. They give you a protein, which is duck, and you come up with the menu that you submit to the judges.”
It all came together and a career of working hard, mastering doctrine, and preparing paid off for the always-smiling Sammy, who had another reason to grin.
“It was a one-time opportunity so I wanted to do all that I can to win the competition,” he said. “I am happy to bring the trophy home to First Army.”
While the trophy made it to First Army headquarters, nutrition is a key component of nutrition and readiness everywhere, and it is Sammy and other culinary specialists who fuel the country’s service members and help them maintain readiness and fitness.