CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE, NY -- Preparation paid off as eight cooks from the New York Army National Guard's 642nd Aviation Support Battalion took their shot at winning the annual Army-wide cooking competition on Friday, April 29."We spent months training to prepare for this competition," said Sgt. Thaddeus Schickling, a food service specialist with the 642nd, and a Leicester, New York college student studying biology and geology. "We took the opportunity to use all of our equipment and practiced as hard as we could."The men and women were participating in the first level of the annual Phillip A. Connelly Competition, the top challenge for Army cooks. The 642nd ASB is part of the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade."It's the Best Warrior Competition for the cooks!" explained Sgt. 1st Class Scott Kyle, a Raven, N.Y. resident and the commodities manager for the New York Army National Guard and 2nd-year evaluator for the Phillip A. Connelly Award for Excellence in Army Food Service at the state level. "Most people don't realize that it's one of the toughest MOSs in the Army.""This is our first Connelly Competition," said Master Sgt. Joel Beardsley, a Livonia, N.Y. resident and the Operations Sgt. for the 642nd and former 1st Sgt. for the unit, who was excited for the opportunity to not only have the unit compete for the first time, but to get recognition for their hard work."We've always had good cooks. Now they can get recognized and showcase their talents," said Beardsley.Kyle shared that the competition not only demanded the same level of training and excellence as the Best Warrior, but it's also the culminating event in the field of food service.This is the first year New York State is holding a state level competition for the National Guard field category to determine who advances to the regional level.The Philip A. Connelly Award for Excellence in Army Food Service was established in 1968 to recognize excellence in preparation and serving food in Army dining facilities and field kitchens, and to promote and improve Army food service by providing competition, incentives, professional training and media coverage. Named after the late Phillip A. Connelly, a former president of the International Food Service Executives Association, the program is comprised of four categories: Active-duty garrison, Active-duty filed, Army National Guard field, and Army Reserve field.However, the Connelly competition is more than just cooking and cleaning. It's a rigorous program that encompasses everything on the field site from sanitation to food preparation to the flow of people.The Connelly program is specifically designed to have a broad range of assessed items to ensure each member of the cooking team pays strict attention to the minutest details. The goal is for the entire team to work in unison to protect the safety and health of the Soldiers they serve."They gel," said Sgt. 1st Class Terry Young, a Hamlin, N.Y. resident and the senior food operations sergeant, with 22 years of experience as a cook with the 642nd. "Teamwork is important... you can't put a good meal out if everyone is doing their own thing."Whether the 642nd cooks win or lose the competition, the level of focus and training the cooks receive while preparing for and competing in the Connelly competition aren't easily reproduced in the normal training calendar."This competition helps cooks better integrate for unified land operations," said Beardsley.Young also added that they're setup as if they were in a real combat scenario, which helps to formulate and identify training plans that are more effective and closely resemble deployed environments."We're excited to take what we learn this year and improve next year," Young said.Winners at the state level will advance to the regional level for an opportunity to challenge Army Reserve and Active Duty Food Service Units.