Two Fort Hood units competed for the Army’s 46th annual Philip A. Connelly Award for food service last week.
The 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade’s dining facility, the Patriot Inn, is competing as the best of six dining facilities in the Army, which features more than 180 locations worldwide.
The journey to reach this level of competition began more than a year ago. The dining facility competed at the installation level first, beating out five other Fort Hood facilities for the top slot. The facility then competed at the U.S. Army Forces Command level before reaching this point in the competition.
“We’re honored to represent the installation,” said brigade food advisor Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chontrelle Sturdivant. “It’s very prestigious. We want to represent the brigade and the installation in a positive manner.”
Sturdivant is responsible for overseeing the dining facility, from ensuring her staff of about 20 soldiers has the proper equipment to cultivating a nutritionally sound menu.
On Feb. 12, they served a Valentine’s Day-themed lunch, complete with heart-shaped beets and red velvet cupcakes.
“At the end of the day, it’s all for the everyday soldier, (producing) quality meals for soldiers out there,” said Sgt. 1st Class Armond Alexander, the facility manager. “They say Thanksgiving is our Super Bowl, then this is our Pro Bowl.”
For James Riddle, one of three evaluators from International Food Service Executives Association, based at Fort Lee, Va., the attitude of the customer weighs heavily in the scoring.
“If the customer isn’t satisfied, you aren’t doing your job,” he said.
Overall, the judges have more than 110 years of food service experience, Riddle said. He spent 25 years as an Army food service technician before working as director of food operations at Virginia Tech University.
What stands out the most during an evaluation for Riddle is the cook’s work ethic.
“A cook has always been a thankless job in the Army,” Riddle said. But if a crew is in good spirits, it will show in their work, which results in high-quality facilities that the Connelly recognizes.
Traveling from facility to facility, judges try to avoid comparisons and judge each on a clean slate.
On a sunny, cool Feb. 13 morning, a company-level team of 10 — four cooks and six kitchen personnel — served breakfast and lunch to their fellow soldiers during the field portion of the Connelly competition.
Sgt. Vidal Velez oversaw the cooking staff inside the 4th Sustainment Brigade’s containerized kitchen, the Wrangler Café.
The unit has been in the field preparing for more than 40 days, Velez said.
“It’s a cool experience,” he said of reaching this level of competition. For his team, “the morale of the soldier is most important.” The small team is capable of serving up to 750 people in a single day.
The team prepared cheeseburgers, fried chicken and baked beans amongst a number of options for lunch.
The weather was a challenge, said Pfc. Tiffaney Giles, food service specialist. It was cold and dark when the team began preparing breakfast at 4 a.m. Communication is the most important aspect for the four cooks working together in the small, transportable kitchen.
“It’s fun, seeing all our work come together,” Giles said.
Evaluator Chief Warrant Officer 5 Princido Texidor, Army food adviser, highlighted the importance of maintaining soldiers’ mental and physical stamina.
“This is the Olympics of food service. Food service is the main motivator for soldiers. It determines who wins the war. Well-fed, nourished soldiers are capable of fighting in battles,” Texidor said.
The commitment among the 4th Sustainment Brigade team is clear.
“These guys have been in the field so many times. They have (dealt with) so many challenges. We’ve been out here in 100 degrees and in the snow and ice storm,” said Sgt. Warrell Spence, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the site.
His role requires him to maintain standards at the site. “If I’m off, someone could get sick,” he said. However, working with a dedicated team makes his job a pleasure.
“It’s a great bunch. I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group. I love them to death,” he said.
Lt. Col. Keith Kruelski, the brigade’s 4th Special Troops Battalion commander, acknowledged that units across Fort Hood request this crew when in the field.
“This is the highlight of food service for the Army. We’re really excited about this,” Kruelski said.
Following last week’s competition, judges will travel next to the remaining five sites: Hawaii, Fort Lewis, Wash., Fort Bragg, N.C., Germany and Korea. The results will be tallied, and winners will be announced in May.