429th BSB takes second in national food service competition

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Danville-based Headquarters Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team prepare a meal while competing in the Philip A. Connelly Food Service Competition March 6, 2020, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

FORT PICKETT, Va. —  After a tight competition with other finalists, the Danville-based Headquarters Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team finished as national runners-up in the 52nd Philip A. Connelly Food Service Competition. The team competed against three other states in the national finals in March 2020. 

“I am extremely proud of the BSB’s success in the Connelly competition,” said Brig. Gen. K. Weedon Gallagher, the Virginia National Guard Assistant Adjutant General – Army. “The 429th has developed and sustained a culture of food service excellence over many years. I am glad, but certainly not surprised to see the BSB earn recognition outside of the Commonwealth. The 429th has been a sustainment powerhouse for us here in Virginia and I know they are more than deserving of the honor.”

The impressive showing was made more remarkable by challenges the team faced in the lead up to the finals competition. 

“The team performance during the national competition was absolutely amazing behind the scenes,” said Lt. Col. Ed Bochtler, the 429th’s commander. “The advanced culinary NCO (formerly called first cook) ended up having emergency surgery the Monday before the competition, and was unable to participate. The culinary NCO stepped up and ran the production line for the national competition on short-notice. 

“This is critical because the competition depends on teamwork. This field feeding section team, normally honed for the national competition, was reorganized immediately before the competition.”

During their national finals evaluation at Fort Pickett, the 429th set up their field kitchen and field sanitation center and began the process of cooking a meal for 429th Soldiers in the field for their drill weekend. The competition began with the unit having a perfect score before points were docked for miscues and mistakes. 

For the judged meal, the 429th’s 92G food service specialists cooked stuffed pork chops, green beans with bacon, salad, minestrone, sautéed potatoes and corn bread. However, the unit isn’t only judged for the quality of the food. Field sanitation, site selection and food safety all factored into the judging, to ensure that every aspect of field feeding is tested. 

“Our maintenance and field sanitation team support was also superior. They successfully worked through emergent issues that would have deducted significant points had they not been able to respond quickly,” said Bochtler. 

The team prepped, cooked and served the meal, with routine checks for proper serving temperature and doneness of the dishes, all while Yoder and two other evaluators watched every move. Despite the pressure of the situation, Sgt. Maj. Gregory Mason, the state food advisor, said the team handled themselves admirably. 

The 429th competed against against units from New York, Iowa and Nebraska in the national finals, with judging scheduled to be complete by the end of March 2020. An Iowa National Guard unit took home the top prize. 

Bochtler highlighted the importance of just having his food service team compete at this level, and said the experience will be invaluable for the future leaders of the 429th’s food service team. 

“This competition provides our culinary specialists invaluable mentoring from senior food service Soldiers,” said Bochtler. “I am very pleased with the amount of time Virginia is willing to allocate toward the development of Culinary Specialists. 

(U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

“Field feeding is changing in the Army. Many units will no longer have dedicated field feeding sections as the Army transitions a large number of those positions to area feeding organizations. It is even more important now that Culinary Specialists in a field feeding section are able to exercise the full extent of their capabilities in a forum with both mentorship and external evaluation.”

The unit’s food service specialists competed for the regional title during eXportable Combat Training Capability Rotation 19-4 at Fort Pickett, Virginia, in July 2019. The unit learned they had claimed the Region 2 crown in September 2019. 

“Our main evaluator last summer, from Nebraska, was amazed that we were attempting to compete in the Connelly competition during XCTC,” said Bochtler. “Not only did we compete, but we did very well.”

The Virginia National Guard has a long history of performing well in the competition. VNG units have won the national-level award five times, most recently in 2013 when the Gate City-based 1032nd Transportation Company took home top honors. They’ve now finished as the national runner-up three times, and finished third nationally twice. 

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 seeks 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.

PHOTOS: 429th BSB competes for national food service award

PHOTOS: 429th BSB competes in regional food service competition during XCTC