FORT STEWART, Georgia -- Behind every military competition is a Soldier who trains hard to win it. Days away from the largest live culinary competition in North America, the 3rd Infantry Division culinary arts team wrapped up their five-month training program for the 42nd Annual Military Culinary Arts Competition, at Fort Lee, Va., March 4-9.

The process to find the best of the best started in November 2016 with team selections at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.

"With almost 30 hopeful competitors, the team was narrowed down to 10 of the best culinary specialists within the division," said Staff Sgt. Gabriel J. Earl, the 3rd Infantry Division culinary arts team manager. "It wasn't easy to make the division team. For more than three weeks, the leaders were evaluated on how well they were able to instruct the student competitors, and student competitors were evaluated on how well they were able to follow instructions."

Once the competitive team was broken down to five professional level competitors and five student competitors, the training to win the upcoming competition began.

"I am really proud of our team," Earle said. "They put in a lot of hard work and invested over 400 hours of practice to be the best culinary specialist they can be. Imagine constantly being critiqued on a skill you are passionate about by Soldiers and Civilians throughout Fort Stewart."

This is not just a competition, this is a huge opportunity for the Soldiers involved.

Pvt. Natasia C. Hines, a 3rd Infantry Division culinary arts student competitor and recent graduate of the Culinary Specialist Advanced Individual Training course said that it felt really good to make the team, especially since she just graduated from AIT.

"I didn't know if I would make the team," said Hines. "My NCO just told me I was going to try out, and I am glad I did. It's a good experience outside of being in the dining facility."

If a student competitor wins, they get to represent the U.S. Army in the American Culinary Federation competition against other civilian culinary arts schools said Earle. There are also three professional competitors who are trying out for the U.S. Army culinary arts team.

Earle said this competition shows our new Culinary Soldiers about all the opportunities that exist outside of the dining facility and how field equipment can be used for more than just boiling.

He also hopes that the Soldiers will win this competition and take their experiences back to their unit's dining facilities and contribute to division's readiness as a whole.

"I encourage the division to keep supporting culinary arts," Earle said. "Leaders should push their Soldiers to try out and compete."

Earl said when Soldiers see their finished product, it awakens a sense of accomplishment and that makes him proud of what they do as U.S. Army Culinary Specialists.

Members of this year's team are Staff Sgt. Gabriel J. Earle, 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion; Staff Sgt. Eric M. Holland, 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment; Sgt. Jameika D. Elliott, 603rd Aviation Support Battalion; SGT Luis Irizarry, 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment; Spc. Roseanna J. Graham, 87th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion; Spc. Norbert Reznik, 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion; Spc. Martrell A. Banks, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment; Spc. Alexis J. Balderama, 92nd Engineer Battalion; Pfc. Leroy M. Ince, 3rd Brigade Support Battalion; Pvt. Natasia Hines, 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion.