Virginia Transportation Company competes in national food competition

Soldiers from the Gate-City based 1032nd Transportation Company, 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group prepare an evening meal for the national-level Philip A. Connelly Awards for Excellence in Army Food Service in the Army Reserve Field Kitchen category Nov. 2 at Fort Pickett. Soldiers of the 1032nd won the regional competition earlier this year and are one of seven regional winners competing at the national level. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – As one of seven regional winners, Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the Gate City-based 1032nd Transportation Company, 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, competed for a top spot in the national-level Philip A. Connelly Awards for Excellence in Army Food Service Nov. 2 at Fort Pickett.

The Soldiers of the 1032nd are no stranger to competing at the national level, taking the first place spot in the National Guard Field Kitchen category in 2009, and acheiving a runner-up spot in the 2012 competition after missing the top spot by just three points.

“Honestly, a lot of our success is having a great cooking staff that works for the 1032nd and a great 1032nd that supports the cooking staff,” said Sgt. Vincent Woodmancy, one of the competing cooks.

The windup for the competition began on Oct. 29th, just as Hurricane Sandy began pelting the commonwealth with rain and heavy winds. Undeterred, the 1032nd kitchen staff, along with help from Soldiers assigned to kitchen patrol, or KP, forged ahead, setting up their site despite the rain and carefully reviewing and planning for all parts of the evening meal they’d be serving in a few short days.

“We worked under Hurricane Sandy, under tremendous winds and rain, to get this thing set up,” said Master Sgt. Gregory Mason, state food advisor for the Virginia Army National Guard. “But they just kept going and this 1032nd unit is ridiculous for how devoted they are. They were so upset because they lost by three points last year that they were determined not to let that happen again this year.”

All teams start the competition with 1,000 points. From there, points can be deducted for not following recipe cards, for not following regulations or proper procedures, or for maintenance or sanitation issues.

“The majority of the points you win is on the kitchen itself,” explained Mason. “And we’ve been working hard to make sure everything is set up right.”

Once the site was set up, complete with hasty fighting positions, a sand table and a dining area, competition day arrived and the Soldiers set to work cooking an evening meal to feed 70 Soldiers. Three judges – a civilian chef and two military representatives – watched as the 1032nd prepared a meal that included chicken parmesan, green beans with mushrooms and a strawberry glazed cake. As the cooks cooked, the judges inquired, asking questions about the size of cut vegetables, oven temperatures, and testing the knowledge of the 1032nd kitchen staff.

“There’s no tension up there at all – everything is running like clockwork,” Mason said, as mealtime drew near. “I think they’re going to do real well here.”

Mealtime arrived and Soldiers began filing through the mobile field kitchen, and the kitchen staff carefully doled out equal portions to all diners. Virginia Guard senior leaders including Brig. Gen. William R. Phillips, land component commander for the Virginia National Guard, Col. Michelle Rose, commander of the 329th RSG, and Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis A. Green, Virginia Guard senior enlisted leader, all stopped by to show their support of the 1032nd and to enjoy the meal the kitchen staff had worked so hard to create.

Once all 70 diners had been fed, it was finally time for the kitchen staff to enjoy the meal they had spent the day preparing and the week planning for.

“The stress? I’m glad that’s over,” said Woodmancy, as he cut into the chicken parmesan he’d help prepare earlier in the day. “But the big thing is the experience we get from having the evaluators here, and really, it’s about training, about learning little bits here and there throughout the week as we’re setting up.”

At the end of the day, the 1032nd kitchen staff felt thankful for the support they have from both the Soldiers in their unit and from the KP who helped make the day a success.

“They wanted to be here and they wanted to support us,” Woodmancy said of the KP who helped him and the rest of kitchen staff throughout the day.

“They’re pretty high speed,” Mason said. “If you don’t have KP, you can’t do it.”

The success of the 1032nd in previous Connelly competitions bolstered the unit’s confidence as well.

“We’ve got a good track record as far as winning the Connelly,” said Mason. “Everyone says, ‘Oh no, Virginia’s in it!’ We’re the team to beat.”

Established in 1968, the Connelly program aims to recognize excellence in Army food service and is named for the late Philip A. Connelly, former president of the International Food Service Executives Association. The program aims to improve the professionalism of Army food service personnel in order to provide the best product and service to military members and to provide recognition for the excellence of Army kitchen staffs in dining facilities and during field kitchen operations.

Soldiers will learn the results of the competition within the next few months.

Photos from the event: