Fort Pickett, Va. — Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Danville-based Headquarters Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team competed in the Philip A. Connelly Food Service Competition July 19, 2019, during eXportable Combat Training Capability Rotation 19-4 at Fort Pickett, Virginia. The 429th is competing for the regional award and the opportunity to further compete for the national prize.
The 429th’s food service specialists, already living in the field as part of XCTC, began the competition by selecting a site for their kitchen and field sanitation location. Under the watchful eye of multiple judges, they prepared a meal for about 70 troops.
The team starts the competition with the maximum number of points. From there, the team of evaluators dock points for mistakes.
“Everybody starts at 1,000 points, then if there are things they aren’t doing correctly or need to improve on, points get pulled away,” said Capt. Jeremy Osborn, company commander.
Though it is a food service competition, Osborn explained the presentation and taste of the food is only about a third of the possible points.
“It’s site selection, it’s preparation and field sanitation,” said Osborn. “We’ve got a generator mechanic, so it’s how well they know the equipment. It’s how well the cooks know their duties. There’s a whole lot of things that go into the process of feeding the Army.”
Working as a team, the cooks chopped and diced vegetables and prepared baked goods, while others made sure all kitchen equipment was clean and sanitary. Everyone involved made sure anyone entering the field kitchen, including the evaluators, had washed their hands.
“Coming together as a team is a big plus,” said Sgt. Maj. Gregory Mason, the state food advisor, who has overseen VNG’s participation in the Connelly competition for several years. “Nobody flew off the handle here. Everybody worked together as a team.”
The day of the competition saw challenging conditions, with high humidity and temperatures approaching triple digits. The field kitchens were even hotter. According to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tollie H. Yoder, a Connelly evaluator and a member of the Nebraska National Guard, that tough atmosphere made the team’s cohesion even more impressive.
“You’d be surprised what you see, especially when you get out into a field environment, a week into it with this heat. Tempers start getting short, spaces start getting tight,” said Yoder as he addressed the 429th’s cooks after the meal. “You guys have a good team. You guys are working well together, you guys are not arguing and bickering.”
The judged meal included stuffed pork chops, green beans with bacon, salad, minestrone, sautéed potatoes and corn bread. During the meal preparation, Yoder and other evaluators quizzed the cooks on their knowledge of the ingredients, sanitation practices and food safety information. Yoder looked on as the cooks took the temperature of every item prepared to make sure it was safe for consumption.
Mason says he likes the unit’s chances.
“As far as with the heat index like it is and the atmosphere, I think they’ve done real well,” said Mason. “I think we’ve got a good chance to win the region and win nationals.”
The 429th should find out if they will advance to the national finals by the end of August. If they advance, they’ll repeat the process again for a different set of evaluators. Participating in the competition also gives the team invaluable practical experience in a very important part of the Army’s mission.
“I want them to be able to move to the next level of feeding in a tactical environment,” said Osborn.
Sgt. Daishamar Lomax, one of the 429th’s cooks, spoke about the importance of their mission and what it takes to be an Army cook.
“To be a 92G you really have to be self motivated,” explained Lomax. “Motivated to wake up early, to stay up late, and motivated to make others happy. Our primary purpose is to boost the Soldiers’ morale.
“It wakes a willingness to want to make other people happy. This is the time of day Soldiers get to relax and enjoy their food. You want to make sure they know you care about them and you did this for them.”