Utah Guardsmen Among Top Cooks in the Country



Story by Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stowell 

204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade 

They say in the Army, “you’re only as good as your last meal.” If so, Utah National Guard Soldiers are doing pretty darned good.

Soldiers assigned to the 1457th Forward Support Company (FSC), competed in the “Final Four” of the Philip A. Connelly Competition, the top honor for food services organizations in the Army, at a field competition at Camp Williams. They will find out if they can lay claim to the title, “best field kitchen in the Army” before the final awards ceremony in May.

“The Connelly competition is a significant award because it demonstrates to senior commanders their go-to-war tasks,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tollie Yoder, a food service senior advisor with the National Guard Bureau and one of this year’s competition judges.

The Connelly Award is given to the food services unit that excels in food presentation, dining experiences, and service across all Army food service platforms in garrison and field environments.

“The teamwork and camaraderie is outstanding. We are excited to be here as they compete for the honor of being named the best field kitchen in the Army National Guard,” said Yoder.

Yoder and another senior warrant officer were joined by a civilian to form a three-judge panel that traveled to Utah to evaluate the FSC.

“They graded our standard operating procedures, our licenses, and our plans for this field meal,” said Staff Sgt. Anton Thomas, the food service section leader of the FSC.

The highlight of the competition is a meal for the troops. Anton’s team, augmented by the rest of the company and a few Soldiers for other units, about 100 in total, set up a full-service field kitchen in a remote training area at Camp Williams and delivered one to be remembered.

“I think the team here in Utah did a fantastic job. The chicken was very moist and the soup was one of the best so far in this judging cycle,” said Samuel Stanovich, the civilian on the judging panel.

Stanovich knows something about food. He is a senior vice president of franchise leadership for a major chain of restaurants and volunteers to judge the competition on behalf of the National Restaurant Association.

The FSC got to the final round of the Connelly competition by winning the state and regional rounds. They participated in the regional competition during their annual training at Dinosaur National Monument last June. They learned they would advance to the national judging over the summer, and have been preparing ever since.

“After we won regionals Staff Sgt. Ralphs and I were focusing on what the judges pointed out that round,” said Thomas. “We made those adjustments and kept reviewing and revising our plan. As time got closer we both were nervous and exhausted.”

Capt. Kevin Lewis is the commander of the FSC. He says that preparing a meal in the field is much more than cooking: “This program looks at how well I and the command team have prepared our Soldiers, our operation orders, and all the planning that goes into the operation.”

“[With these tasks] the commander can be confident that his unit is deployable,” said Yoder. “People think that food just shows up. Well there’s a lot of associated tasks, like forecasting water, making sure you have fuel, and you can dispose of wastewater,” he said.

All those operations require planning and flexibility. For instance, one of the company’s vehicles broke down the day before their evaluation, so Thomas had his guys out in the field to set up a day early to avoid a backlog.

Additionally, the FSC was shorthanded on personnel. They got support from the 19th Special Forces Group Support Battalion, which also has a food services section.

Thomas said his Soldiers are having fun despite the challenges, which is key to success.

“Everyone is upbeat and rocking and rolling,” he said “Even with the setbacks, nothing stops these guys. They trust each other.”

By the time they were ready to prepare the meal, they had their field kitchen set up. It’s a complex that is designed to feed more than 1,000 Soldiers at a time. It includes a containerized kitchen (CK), a food sanitation center, a dining hall, a gray water tank, toilets and handwashing facilities, a fuel point, a fire response point, and a potable water supply point. Army regulations specify the proper spacing of all the components and, of course, they all have to be mobile.

“The company has to ensure food safety, sewage, power, basically anything a restaurant has to think about,” said Yoder. “We emphasize getting them out of the kitchen and becoming logisticians.”

When the meal was ready, Soldiers and the judges were treated to a menu of creole chicken quarters, butternut squash soup, fried cabbage and bacon, cucumber onion salad, rolls, and strawberry shortcake, along with orange-infused water and a fruit side.

“I saw big smiles on the Soldiers’ faces,” said Stanovic. “They got warm bellies filled with good food.”

“Every time we do this we learn something new,” said Thomas.

Win or lose, Lewis is still proud of his Soldiers.

“It takes dedication and our Soldiers have put a lot of work and effort into this,” said Lewis. “They’re the best in the state and best in the region. I look forward to being able to call them the best in the nation.”

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