JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Culinary specialist across the armed forces are integral to our service members. Often unappreciated, culinary specialists work long hours, weekdays, weekends and holidays to feed the troops. Like law enforcement, culinary specialists work around the clock, because without them, service members don't get fed.

Army, Navy and Air Force service members gathered at the Culinary School on Joint Base Lewis-McChord Oct. 15 to 18 to compete for a spot on the 2019 Joint Washington Military Culinary Arts Team from JBLM.

This is the first time JBLM has brought the three services to compete for a spot in the 10-member team that will be heading to Fort Lee, Va., to compete at Department of Defense level in March.

"These competitions are important because it gives the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen an opportunity to see that there is more than just the dining facility, it broadens their career choices" said Sgt. 1st Class Marc Susa, a culinary instructor from the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Twenty-five service members competed in the team, but only 16 were selected to continue. In the upcoming months Susa, who is also the team captain, will select only 10 as part of the Joint Washington Military Culinary Arts Team.

"I'm here hoping that I learn more and I think it will make a big impact in my culinary career and looking forward to see what a competition at DOD level looks like," said Pvt. 1st Class Jasmine Calderon, a culinary specialist from the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 502nd Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade.

The competition had two categories; the student category and the professionals. Soldiers like Pvt. 1st Class Ernesto Terriquez, a culinary specialist from the 51st Expeditionary Signal Battalion, had the opportunity to compete at the student level with only 18 months in service.

"I wanted to try something different, and I want to learn something from the team," said Terriquez, who is from Lynwood, Calif., and joined the military just July 2017.

Service members who are not in this specialty know little about what these culinary specialists do and how important they are to military units. When seen, they are at a serving line putting a piece of food on your plate, but there's a lot more to know about this specialty.

Culinary specialists have a lot of options within their career field to get out their comfort some and refine their culinary skills.

"The competition recognizes individual and team efforts, while providing incentives and recognition in the form of certificates, medals and trophies and continuing education," said Susa, a native of Pearl City, Hawaii.

The competition at Fort Lee is the largest military culinary competition in North America. It is sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation and showcases the talents of military chefs from around the globe from all branches of the armed forces.

"In the next coming months, the team that got selected today will undergo into intense training to prepare themselves to be the best of the best culinarians that will ultimately represent Joint Washington Military Culinary Arts Team," Susa said.