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FORT McCOY, Wis. ó When the food service section of the 132nd Brigade Support Battalion’s Headquarters Company served chow to about 100 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers July 12, it also served notice of its intent to advance in the Philip A. Connelly Awards Program food service competition.

The food service specialists had four hours to prepare 100 meals in a tactical environment. The incentive at the regional competition is $15,000 to the state food service and equipment budget, and an additional $25,000 for the winners at the national level.

According to Sgt. Kyle Edwards, the state food program manager, as well as one of the evaluators for the Wisconsin competitors, this is the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s first participant in the Connelly competition in 20 years.

“It’s an evaluation of what a normal food service operation is, of the correct way of doing things, with a little more pomp and circumstance,” Edwards explained. “It’s a lot of work, and I think a highlight of this team is that they make everything from scratch with fresh ingredients and fresh herbs. It’s the thing that sets them apart, and to do that in the field is quite an accomplishment.”

“It’s an evaluation of our whole operation, ordering, regulation, from beginning to end,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jassen Hinchley, senior food service operations sergeant. “It helps us work together as a team, as a section, and we become more proficient.”

Staff Sgt. Aleksandr Simonov, senior first cook, shared his enthusiasm for the competition and for his team.

“It’s very challenging, but it’s a lot of fun and it’s very rewarding,” Simonov said. “It’s great training for the Soldiers, and they get to see something they normally don’t get to in most National Guard units.”

Command Sgt. Major Rafael Conde, the 32nd Brigade’s senior noncommissioned officer, is no stranger to food service with more than 29 years of experience in the food service industry as a district manager for a college food service contractor on the civilian side. He expressed how important this competition, and others like it, is for the Soldiers.

“As a command sergeant major, one of my first questions of Soldiers out in the field is ‘How’s the food?’ Soldiers are happiest when they’re fed,” Conde said. “Quantity is important, but put a good, quality meal that’s healthy and tastes good in front of them ó that’s what’s going to drive our Soldiers and keep them going.

“This competition allows us to see what our mess sections are capable of, especially in the field,” Conde continued. “Sometimes people, the Soldiers, forget.”

Edwards also mentioned how important it is to recognize the efforts of the food service specialists in the competition.

“It’s a lot of work for these guys, but the payoff is great,” Edwards said. “First, it’s an absolutely great training opportunity. It boosts morale. It generates command interest, and the food service team can get recognition for what they do, and for waking up at two in the morning and not going to bed until the dishes are done at [9 p.m.]

“We hope interest and involvement in this competition keeps growing,” Edwards added. “We’re hoping to see more and more in the future.”

The 132nd BSB Headquarter Company’s food service team will learn their standing in the Philip A. Connelly Awards Program regional competition after it concludes Aug. 10.