JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Five U.S. Army Soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord competed for an internship through a hands-on process at a local restaurant, interviewing during its busiest hours to earn one of the coveted opportunities, Nov. 13.

The culinary specialists, from the 7th Infantry Division and 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, tested their skills for one of the two available positions at Mercato Ristorante in Olympia. The internships are slated to be their place of duty for 40-hours a week for eight weeks, broadening their professional skill sets in a distinct training environment.

"I wanted to pursue the internship so I can see what cooking outside the military is like," said Sgt. Joseph D. Wilson, of 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. "Doing this at a high-end restaurant is interesting … and it's closer to the end goal of what I want in my career."

Sergeant Major Amy M. Davis, the 7th Infantry Division food service sergeant major, pioneered this internship, intending the program to help single-contract and career culinary specialists to be more informed before they end their time in service.

"The Army has civilian on-the-job programs for welding, mechanics, and communications Soldiers," said Davis, "And there's nothing for the (culinary specialists), so I came up with something for them."

Contestant, Pfc. Luis W. Gonzalez of 593rd ESC, loves cooking for his two boys and wife, who is due to deliver their first daughter in February. He said they motivate him, pushing him to pursue his passions.

"I want to get more experience and become a chef," said Gonzalez, a native of Phoenix. "I'm just trying to learn different types of food and get experience, like in the high-end restaurants."

Davis knew the culinary passion of the Soldiers and wanted to compliment it with an experience matching their goals and the goals of the Army. She said it is mutually beneficial as those Soldiers can bring their experience back to the dining facility and improve diners' experience here.

Davis contacted the JBLM Career Skills Program, who contacted Thurston County's Chamber of Commerce. Together, they approached the owner of the restaurant, Taylor Vroman, who was eager to host the pilot program.

"It's a good opportunity for Olympia to get involved with JBLM Soldiers and show them how the civilian side of their job operates," said Vroman. "And it's a good opportunity to help bring them here to see what's going on in our town."