By T. Anthony BellMarch 6, 2019
FORT LEE, Va. -- The glamor of winning gold at the Joint Culinary Training Exercise is often fleeting.
After the camera flashes, bro hugs and Facebook posts comes the real test -- can the victor somehow turn his or her achievement into a teachable experience for others in order to improve military food service?
The training exercise's underlying theme has always been something akin to the catchphrase "each one teach one." Meaning seasoned participants, leaders and winners all have the obligation to share the knowledge gained during the event with the food service infrastructure at their home stations. To do anything else is contrary to the JCTE's mission.
Sgt. 1st Class Jose Alves said he immediately keyed in on that expectation when he won the first top enlisted aide title in 2010. Ideally, he said he probably would have served the military best had he been pushed out into the field to serve as a dining facility noncommissioned officer in charge where he could especially impact the green 92G culinary specialists fresh out of their Fort Lee training.
That did not happen.
"Right after the competition, I was offered a job to be the senior enlisted aide for a 4-star general, which is normally an E-8 position; I was a brand new E-7," he said by telephone from Hawaii. "Expectations were really high at the time. Everyone was looking at me like, 'OK, nobody knew who this guy was, and now he's the enlisted aide of the year after being an enlisted aide for only six months (at the time).' It was a great feeling."
Alves accepted the position he considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. His action brings to light the predicament many winners face when career goals, personal desires and rare chances intersect. In his case, it was not merely because it was a 4-star billet -- specifically, the aide to now-retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly who was heading up U.S. Southern Command at that time. The assignment also would put him close to his hometown of Miami.
At the end of the four-year hitch that started in 2011, Alves realized he was in an enviable position from a resume-building standpoint, and the ride could potentially continue as he was offered the option to stay on as the enlisted aide for Kelly's successor. On the flip side, he knew promotion boards frown on stagnant Soldiers, and he was still feeling the aforementioned teaching obligation tug from JCTE. He decided it was time for a more conventional position.
"I chose to go back to the regular Army and further develop my leadership skills as a senior noncommissioned officer," he said of the decision that steered him to the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. "I wanted to get back into the fight."
Alves served as a platoon sergeant for about a year and was not working in a DFAC. In 2016, Team Hawaii won its second consecutive Culinary Team of the Year title and the command relished the notion of having the military's top culinarians serving its troops. The Soldier who had thrived in the rarified air of commanding generals was offered the job as team NCOIC.
Needless to say, the pressure to win the JCTE team title for 2017 was great, and Alves faced several obstacles. For one, he didn't have the training resources extended to the previous winners -- the command had used contractors to prepare Soldiers for the JCTE. Second, only one Soldier remained from the prior year.
"We had to start from scratch," Alves said. "I had to go to the different dining facilities and ask who wanted to join the team. It was a huge challenge and a lot of pressure, but we trained sometimes six or seven days a week leading up to March. In the end, it showed. The team was very successful that year."
Team Hawaii's "three-peat," as it was proclaimed in the Traveller newspaper, loudly echoed throughout the military culinary community. The feat tied the record for consecutive team-of-year wins, and ultimately, team members were more prepared to support the dining facilities' mission.
Alves wanted more, however. He continued to support a year-round training program, benefiting the entire 25th Inf. Div., culinary community and bolstering the chances of a "four-peat." He also encouraged his Soldiers to earn American Culinary Federation certifications. However improbable, Team Hawaii prevailed again last year. Team members were better culinarians as a result of the training experience, and Alves was a leadership example they could emulate.
Additionally, his name-brand recognition on the island and elsewhere was off the charts even though he has moved on.
"Even now that I'm not the NCOIC of the team," he said, "people still look at me like, 'Hey, is Team Hawaii going to win that five-peat? Is that going to happen? Are you still involved with the team?''
Alves remains in Hawaii and continues serving as a consultant for the team. He had intended to hold the position longer, but a phone call from the division's commanding general changed that.
"Someone mentioned my name and said, 'You have a guy there on the culinary team who's won two in a row,'" he recalled. "At the time, (Maj.) Gen. (Ronald) Clark was taking over as commander. He reached out and asked me to interview for the enlisted aide job. I decided to take a shot at it. I wanted to stay in Hawaii a little longer and this would definitely give me the opportunity."
Alves is basking in the warmth of his own success, knowing he is accomplished not solely on the merits of his own talents but also that of his Soldiers -- as evidenced by their own career enhancements.
"Those guys gave back; they helped me win, but at the same time I wanted to give back to them and get them ACF certified, which they all earned," he said. "They became pastry chefs, sous chefs or certified executive chefs. The entire 11-man team is now certified from last year. That is a huge accomplishment for us."
Alves' influence in Hawaii continues to reverberate. He said 2018 team members have gone on to work at the Pentagon, Secretary of the Army dining facility and some will be members of new teams in this year's event.
"It's all about giving back," said Alves, "I'm pretty sure it (the training and titles) is going to benefit them for the rest of their careers. Not only were they part of a winning team, but they developed themselves as culinary specialists."
So what's next for the two-time champ? Alves said he intends to be a first sergeant and will continue to improve the 92-Golf community as a whole. "I want to give back all I accomplished -- all the skills I've acquired in my 18-year career."
Alves is likely to get another phone call from a general. Whether he accepts another enlisted aide position is immaterial. He has a proven record of turning achievement into measureable results -- via his award winning teams -- and an undying commitment to bettering the food service community.