BANGOR, Maine - Soldiers from the Maine Army National Guard's 1136th Transportation Company are proving that Army dining isn't all MRE's and sloppy joes, as they compete in the 46th annual Phillip A. Connolly Award.
“Food is everything,” said Pvt. Brian Lothrop. “Without food, no one is moving, no one is going to go anywhere.”
This group of soldiers first earned attention when they competed at the regional event earlier this year, and were selected as one of 10 teams to advance to the national level. There are five other National Guard teams, and four Army Reserve teams that are currently competing in the same event. Each team has to prepare the same meal, create the same environment, and serve similar evaluators.
More than 60 soldiers lined up at the mobile kitchen trailer to get a taste of the meal the cooks from the 1136th prepared on March 9, 2014. The meal was part of a national level competition for consideration for the 2014 Phillip A. Connolly Award. Maine has not competed at the national level for this event since the early 1990s. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Angela Parady)
Second Lt. Aaron Saucier is the executive officer for the 1136th. He said this is the first time a team from Maine has made it to the national level since 1993.
“The Connolly Award is a logistics award based on food safety and service,” said Saucier. “They grade us on the environment, as to whether or not we can serve food safely to soldiers, and how the food tastes. They actually grade us on how well our soldiers like our food, so it's kind of a double-edged sword. We have to be able to do it safely, and they have to actually like it."
Lothrop, a truck driver in the 1136th Transportation Company, is proud of the work he and his field sanitation crew have done in assisting his company's cooks advance to this level.
“They say the Army marches on its stomach, and that the soldier in the field is only as good as the number of calories he can put in his body to keep moving,” said Lathrop. “You get a good soldier, who goes a few days without food, he isn't worth anything.”
Sgt. 1st Class Russell Hopkins of Augusta, Sgt. Chris Bolduc of Sanford, Spc. Nick Barnett of Calais, Spc. Bryanna Gerrish of Bangor and Pvt. Tommy Pelletier of Sanford have been working as a team to be as prepared as possible.
Since winning at the regional level, their motivation has only picked up speed. They have been working hard to learn from mistakes they made at the regional level, so they won't make them again this time.
The team rehearsed setting up their mobile kitchen trailer and tearing it down repeatedly, so that they are able to do it quickly and efficiently. The meal that they are serving to 60 soldiers and evaluators for the National Guard Bureau has been created dozens of times in order to make sure everything is just perfect. Even though they may be getting a bit tired of pork chops, their fellow soldiers have been there to support them the whole time.
Lothrop, who lives in Mechanic Falls, said it was a nice change of pace to be able to support this part of their team.
“I am one of the guys who just drives a truck most of the time, and these guys come out and cook for us when we are in the field, or at a drill weekend, and it is nice to see them get some respect and attention for what they do,” he said.
It is also nice because he has been able to function a little differently now than in the past.
“I went out with a couple of these guys, and we took a 40-hour field sanitation course, to get ready for this,” he said. “We learned a lot there, and what we didn't know, we learned at regionals, and have only continued to improve.”
Of course, no amount of preparation and rehearsal can fully prepare individuals for the unexpected. On the day of the event, the temperatures in Bangor didn't reach above freezing and snow and melted water left dangerous and icy spots.
“It is real slippery; we have been telling people to be careful around the ice, to walk like a penguin, keeping your feet close together,” said Saucier. "Even worse, our hand washing stations keep freezing up, so we have to keep pouring in hot water so our sanitation is up to date, cold weather injuries, cycling our people in and out of our cold.”
Keeping the sanitation stations functional was important, because along with the quality and taste of the food being presented, the overall cleanliness and sanitation of the area is graded for this award. Saucier said they were also graded on his documentation of food and material purchases, the overall service and demeanor of the cooks, and their ability to portion correctly and to the specifications set forth by the Army.
The award, which was established in 1968, helps bring the food service specialists of the Army pride in their work, and to promote and improve Army food service through awareness with incentives, competition and media attention.
Saucier said he was very pleased with how his team performed on Sunday, and is hopeful about the next stages going forward.
“Food service is important because people work all day long, and they train very hard, at the end of the day, the middle of the day, they need that break where they can go sit down for a few minutes, relax, and everyone loves food,” he said. “When they come in and they get a good meal, not the typical Army food you may hear false rumors about, or MREs, when they get to come in and have a real good meal you can see the light come back in their eyes and they are ready to start the next part of their day or night. So I take food service very seriously. I am proud of what these guys do.”
By U.S. Army Sgt. Angela Parady
Provided through DVIDS
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