The Phillip A. Connelly Awards program is a win-win venture for food service sections and the Army National Guard as a whole, whether competing units win or not.
In two out of the past three years, the Wisconsin Army National Guard has fielded the best food service section in the entire Army National Guard. Last year, the food service section for Company E of the 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, located in Antigo, Wisconsin, represented the state in the 2015 Phillip A. Connelly Awards Program but did not advance beyond the regional competition — clearly demonstrating the demanding nature of the competition.
The Company E food service section will receive an award Feb. 27 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin for competing at the regional level, but Sgt. Kyle Edwards, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s state food program manager, said the rewards of competing go beyond mere trophies.
“Army Guard culinary teams from all over the country participate in the Connelly, but few are able to compete at the national level,” Edwards explained. “The most common result of Connelly participation is knowledge and experience.
“The training aspect of the Connelly equals the competitive aspect,” he continued. “When units participate in the Connelly, they are compelled to focus on completing every step of the feeding operation perfectly. The emphasis on executing a flawless operation while being quizzed and analyzed by knowledgeable evaluators is a significant training opportunity.”
Edwards said the regional judges are retired food service warrant officers or senior noncommissioned officers, who share their collective knowledge of food service operations with participating units after the Connelly meal is served.
“Even if the unit does not move on to the next level, the critique they receive during the outbrief is a valuable portion of the Connelly event,” Edwards said.
And having an organic food service section gain proven expertise can only benefit the unit, and the Wisconsin Army National Guard as a whole. A properly functioning food service section can provide the fuel a unit needs to accomplish the mission. A really good food service section can improve morale.
“When they get a good meal, get to be in a friendly environment, it picks everybody up,” Staff Sgt. Aleksandr Simonov, the food operations manager and first-line cook for the 132nd Brigade Support Battalion food service section — the team named best in the Army National Guard for 2015 — said during last year’s national competition. “Morale is just a little bit higher.”
Competing in the Connelly Awards Program — akin to the Best Warrior competition in that it requires thorough knowledge and successful application of specific tasks in a realistic, stressful environment — also gives unit leadership a better understanding of what their food service sections do, Edwards said.
“Being a cook is hard work,” he said. “2:30 a.m. wakeups and operating in hot field kitchens is not easy. Leaders from all levels may not have time to look behind the scenes of a food service operation during normal annual training or drill weekend periods.”
Edwards said he is hopeful that one or two food service sections in the Wisconsin Army National Guard will sign up for this year’s Phillip A. Connelly Awards Program competition.