FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, PA - Ten cooks from the New York Army National Guard's 642nd Aviation Support Battalion put their culinary skills and ability to feed troops efficiently under the microscope of trained evaluator's eyes on July 27 during annual training at Fort Indian Town Gap, PA.

The battalion's mess section was evaluated as part of the annual Philip A. Connelly Awards Program, known as the Connelly competition. The Connelly competition recognizes the best mess operations in the total Army each year.


The program is named for foodservice industry innovator Philip Connelly who worked to help the military improve its culinary program.

This year, the 642nd's Headquarters Support Company mess section was one of three in the New York National Guard picked to be evaluated.

The 642nd cooks, led by Sgt. 1st Class Terry Young, placed second in the regional competition in 2016. The goal, this year, is to get them to the next level according to Chief Warrant Officer Nakia Dukes, the competition evaluator.

"Today is more of an opportunity to teach, coach, and mentor rather than evaluate," he said. "I want to do everything possible to get them past regionals."

The cooks were evaluated while working out of their containerized kitchen, or CK for short, in a tactical field feeding environment. The evaluation encompassed ten areas of emphasis to include food preparation, command support, and the troop appeal.

The meal was prepared and served to troops in the field as part of the field training exercise.

The evaluation by Dukes is at the New York State level to ensure the best mess section is sent to a regional level competition where they will complete against cooking teams across the northeast region.

While the "taste" of the food is not graded, it was a significant factor for the 642nd cooks, Dukes said.

"Army cooks don't cook for flavor, they cook to get Soldiers back in the fight,' Dukes said. "This unit takes the initiative to improve their food by adding spices, mixing ingredients and it shows today…. they knocked it out of the park."

The menu for the competition included pork loin, mashed potatoes and baked ziti. But it was the dessert cook, Pfc. Amber Vanenwyck that stole the show with her apple crisp, evaluators said.

"It was difficult to make, due to the limited space and time in the CK." She said, "I had to make a variation of the recipe by using apple pie filling with yellow cake mix, brown sugar and melted butter."

Pfc. Avery Bueso, the cook responsible for controlling the flow of traffic, said it was the cook's leadership that led to their success. "Delegation is key," he said, "Making sure we are all doing our part and flowing well together, that's what makes it happen."

At the end of dinner, the mess evaluators brought the cooks and leadership together to discuss the successes and areas to improve.

An evaluator from the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade, Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Viele, said he feels confident that with a few tweaks, the 642nd mess section cooks are ready to compete with the best.

"What mattered was there," Viele said, "The command support was phenomenal, the dessert was awesome… I think you can take the regionals." The 642nd's cooks should know by October if they will be competing in the regional competition next year, Dukes said.

The Soldiers who sampled the meal agreed it was a good one. The cooks got thumbs up all around.

One of those tasters was Lt. Col. Michael Charnely, the former commander of the 642nd and now the commander of the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade. He stopped by to show his support for the cooks and sample their efforts.

"That was the best pork loin I've had in the army," Charnley said. "I know I can always come to the 642nd and get a good meal."