Enlisted aides showcase their skills
March 8, 2012
By Amy Perry
FORT LEE, Va. (March 8, 2012) -- In an effort to be more inclusive to the entire military, this year's enlisted aide category at the Military Culinary Arts Competition was open to every service.
Allowing participation by a wider variety of military food service professionals was just a natural step in the progression of the competition, said Culinary Specialist Senior Chief Frank Davila, senior Enlisted Aide Training Course instructor at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence.
"Since the other services were competing in the culinary portion of the competition already, we thought why not let them compete in the enlisted aide competition?" he said. "We wanted to build camaraderie amongst the services to shed more light on the enlisted aide program here."
Compared to last year's three Soldiers, the 2012 competition had 14 enlisted aides competing to earn the title Armed Forces Enlisted Aide of the Year.
Keeping the competition strictly for Soldiers just didn't make sense, said Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Stafford, Enlisted Aide Training Course instructor, especially with the joint operations going on around the world.
"We're more of a joint service," Stafford said. "We train as a joint service; we should compete as a joint service. You can have an enlisted Army guy working for an admiral or an enlisted Navy guy working for a general."
The enlisted aide competition has four parts: a 100-question exam (50 culinary questions and 50 enlisted aide questions); an oral board (in front of a panel of 5 experienced enlisted aides and enlisted aide program managers); uniform assembly challenge (putting their general flag officer's uniform together by regulation); and a hot food challenge (a three course meal).
"This event gives us exposure to the community," said Davila, referring to all of the young culinary specialists who compete in the competition but may not even know about the enlisted aide professionals around them. "This also shows the generals and admirals out there that the enlisted aide training is important. If they have the proper formal training, the enlisted aides will want to come back and compete."
Sgt. 1st Class Sophia Bulham, enlisted aide to Lt. Gen. Mick Bednarek, commanding general of First Army at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., has only been an enlisted aide for four months and competed at the competition this year. She said the experience is great, but meeting the other enlisted aides has been her favorite part of the event.
"I think it's great -- I've come and met wonderful enlisted aides," she said. "We've had a wonderful time together and networking. We're able to get different ideas from each other."
The various aspects of the competition made it stressful, said Bulham, especially the written exam.
"You didn't know what to study," she said. "As an enlisted aide, you have the time you're dedicating to the boss, and by the time you get around to studying, you hope you memorize a lot of things."
Another competitor -- Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen Willis, enlisted aide to Gen. Anne Dunwoody, commanding general of the Army Materiel Command -- has been an enlisted aide for more than eight years and said the uniform rigging was the most nerve-racking part of the competition.
"With General Dunwoody, I've put her uniform together so many times, I can just about do it in my sleep," she said. "But still, knowing they are coming behind me with a ruler. With a male's uniform, they have a pocket to go by, but women go with the configuration of the body. After she puts on her uniform, depending on how it fits, I may have to make some little adjustments."
One part she wasn't worried about was the hot food challenge.
"I just love food and have a passion for cooking," said Willis, who also has two children in culinary schools across the United States.
The Armed Forces Enlisted Aide of the Year will be announced Friday during the MCAC ceremony at the Lee Theater.