Devils Lake, N.D. – Napoleon knew what he was talking about 200 years ago when he proclaimed “An army marches on its stomach.”
With those words of wisdom in mind, the Soldiers of the Fargo, N.D. based Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 141st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB) are in good standing, thanks to the unit’s cooks who are marching toward victory this summer to become the Army National Guard’s best field mess section.
For the first time in eight years, a North Dakota Army National Guard unit is in the running for top honors in the 2012 Philip A. Connelly Award of Excellence in Army Food Service. The award is designed to encourage professionalism in Army food service teams and recognize excellent performance. The award is named in honor of the late Philip A. Connelly, a former International Food Service Executive Association (IFSA) president, who was responsible for obtaining IFSEA sponsorship of Army food service awards.
Not since 2004, when Minot’s Headquarters and Headquarters company of the 164th Engineer Battalion won it all has a North Dakota unit been this close to the top prize.
“This is like the Olympics for Army cooks and food service professionals,” said Sgt 1st Class Diane Wald, Bismarck, N.D., chief cook for the company. “We’re going for the gold medal.”
The benefits of winning the competition includes monetary support for the North Dakota Army National Guard’s food service program, and possibly, scholarships for selected participants to attend a culinary arts school.
Cooks from 141st MEB currently are establishing a field kitchen at Camp Grafton Training Center South – a remote National Guard training site near McHenry, N.D. From there, they will feed hundreds of North Dakota Guard Soldiers who are training in the area.
Later this week, the 141st MEB cooks will be judged by a team of state evaluators, and then on June 24, a hand-selected group of food service specialists will arrive from National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., to determine the best National Guard cooks in the region.
The 141st MEB cooks are competing against a National Guard unit from South Dakota for the regional honor and the right to advance to the national competion.
The cooking team comprises Wald, Sgt. 1st Class Carol A. Molina, Fargo, Staff Sgt. Bradley A. Hillebrand, Devils Lake, N.D.; Sgt. Michael J. Freadhoff, New Salem, N.D., Spc. Joleen M. Pardo, Bertha, Minn., and Spc. Christopher M. Koffler, Fargo.
The ability to maintain professionalism and safety standards are two critical elements that evaluators look for from the Soldier-cooks, according to Master Sgt. Larry D. Jacobson, Fargo, the unit’s food service officer.
Jacobson should know. In his 35-year military career, he’s been involved in cooking competitions, such as the Connelly, before, in both the Army and Navy. Among his accomplishments, he guided a cooking team with the Grand Forks-based 1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment to a Connelly regional championship.
“While the Army has its ‘Best Sapper’ competitions for combat engineers and its ‘Best Warrior’ competitions to honor superior soldiering; the Connelly is that kind of competition for field mess cooks,” Jacobson said. “It determines the best of the best.”
Jacobson’s bit of advice for the141st MEB cooks is to have fun and maintain a positive attitude throughout the competition.
“The whole idea is not to let it stress you out, because, if you do, you forget the little things and those are the things that will trip you up,” he said. “Our cooks have nothing to worry about; they know what they’re doing and they’re very good at it.”
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized nearly 3,900 Soldiers and more than 1,800 Airmen in support of the Global War on Terrorism. About 70 percent of all members serving today have joined since that time. Currently, more than 300 North Dakota Guardsmen are serving overseas while about 4,000 remain in the state for emergency response and national defense. For every 10,000 citizens in North Dakota, 65 serve in the North Dakota National Guard, a rate that’s more than four times the national average.
High-resolution photos available on Flickr Set “2012 Connelly Mess Competition"