SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, HAWAII -- It is 4:30 a.m., and the only sound is that of generators running in the distance. Security is set while noise and light discipline is in effect. Approaching the entry control point, we are greeted with an access challenge by a Soldier from the 95th Clearance Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade pulling security.
Moving forward, the sound of the generators becomes more prevalent, the outline of camouflage screening systems slowly become visible, and the smell of fresh breakfast sausage fills the air. This is the Philip A. Connelly Competition.
The Philip A. Connelly Awards Program was established on March 23, 1968. The program is named for the late Philip A. Connelly, former president of International Food Service Executives Association (IFSEA). Conducted on an annual basis, the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence administers the annual Philip A. Connelly Program in both field and garrison environments. At its core, the competition celebrates culinary excellence through the recognition of food service programs. At the unit level, the competition also presents a perfect opportunity to conduct training; ensuring their culinary specialists are prepared to answer the nation's call.
"The Connelly allowed us to showcase the best of our readiness, to transition from a hastily prepared field kitchen in an austere environment to a fully built-up dining experience for the war fighter. For the [forward support] company, it was more than just a competition. It was a training event for us to refine our edge, to the best possible degree with field feeding, to let us know how capable and ready we are to deploy anywhere anytime to support the mission," said Capt. Nicholas S. Caito, the Forward Support Company Commander.
Having won the U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) level nomination by defeating teams from across Hawaii, Alaska, Joint Base-Lewis -McChord, Japan and the Republic of Korea in September, the 84th Engineer Battalion is one of only four remaining units competing in the Department of the Army active duty Field Category Competition. The team has participated in multiple levels of evaluations to get to this point. The competition is multi-level starting at the lowest echelon, which for most units consists of evaluations from brigade all the way to a major army command level.
"We began competing in the Philip A. Connelly Competition in July of 2017. For more than half of our team, it was their first field Connelly. The planning, coordination, and execution has been exhausting, yet extremely rewarding on both a personnel and professional level," said Staff Sgt. Francine Talley, the Field Feeding Team (FFT) Noncommissioned officer in charge.
"Being competitive calls for extensive planning, resourcing, and command support for roughly half a year. Our battalion provided all the necessary equipment and personnel for the competition. The support, assistance, and mentorship we received allowed our team to focus on perfecting an immaculate product," said Talley.
The command support not only allows the FFT to train, but sets the stage for a battalion-wide training exercise.
"At the battalion level, we are able to train in multiple mission essential tasks across our formations. For example; our 95th Clearance Company was able to use this opportunity to conduct route clearance, general engineering support, and area defense training. The competition is a battalion effort. We take care of the little things so the FFT can focus on culinary excellence," said Lt. Col. Michael A. Busby, 84th Engineer Battalion Commander.
Possibly the most important aspect of the competition, one that is easily overlooked given its scale, is the opportunity to serve hard working Soldiers excellent food. Taking care of Soldiers is what a 92G Culinary Specialist does day in and day out. Whether in a field or garrison environment, the Army's Culinary Specialists are up first and asleep last, preparing the meals that fuel our nation's warfighters. Their legacy is the impact they have on Soldiers; because as we in the army know, there is nothing quite like waking up and smelling the sausage.
Winners will be announced at the National Restaurant Association Show later this year in Chicago.