FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, Aug. 18, 2009) - The U.S. Army Special Operation Command Dining Facility was recently chosen to represent the Installation Management Command-Southeast at the Department of the Army-level 2009 Philip A. Connelly Awards.

The annual competition recognizes excellence in Army food service and improves the level of professionalism within the field, in turn providing the best possible quality to Soldiers. The USASOC dining facility was selected for the small unit category from among dining facilities on 10 other installations across the Southeastern U.S. The DA competition will be held between October and December of this year.

"The competition judges dining facilities in eleven different areas, from food preparation and quality, to command support and headcount procedures," said Azealee Brown, IMCOM-SE food program manager and a former active-duty chief warrant officer 5 food service advisor who spent 20 years on Fort Bragg.

One of the advantages the USASOC facility has over some of its competitors is that it is an all-contractor facility as opposed to a military one.

Contract service means continuity for dining facilities, as they do not have to train new employees on their procedures as often, she said. Military dining facilities have to deal with Soldiers from within their staff deploying or changing duty stations.

"The military has formal training to become a food service specialist, but our employees don't have that kind of eight-week course," said James Ramey, full food manager for KCA, the contracting service which runs the facility. "That's why it's important for us to have an outstanding on-the-job training program. Not only that, but we target retired military for employees. That's the type of winning team we put together."

Getting the DA-level of the competition was not easy, Ramey said. First they had to develop a weekly menu plan and begin preparing it nearly two months before the competition.

"It's been a joint effort between KCA management, Fort Bragg installation food service and USASOC for the past eight weeks," he said. "We spent that time fine-tuning the plan and procedures, so when it came time for inspection, we've worked out any kinks. The key is doing the right thing every day, not just on Connelly day."

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Michael Gillis, USASOC food service advisor, agreed that in order to win the competition, shortcuts must be avoided.

"If you walk around, you'll notice that for the people working back there, their habits are the same habits they have all the time," Gillis said. "It's not something that is just for today. If you take someone who is just prepped for today, sooner or later they'll take a shortcut. It's like a good golf swing."

With nearly 40 employees working together for the competition, teamwork is essential.

"The professional relationship between the military and the support personnel with the contractor is why we're so successful here," Ramey said. "It's an honor as a contractor to represent USASOC and Fort Bragg for this competition."

But the real reason their work as they do is not for accolades, but for the Soldiers.

"At the end of the day, we will do anything within our power to provide the best possible service and meal to our Soldiers," Gillis said. "Every Soldier that walks through that door, every meal is an evaluation. And you're only as good as your last meal."

In addition to the USASOC dining facility placing first in the IMCOM-SE region, the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) dining facility at Fort Campbell, Ky., was named runner-up, and the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) dining facility at Fort Lewis, Wash., placed first in the IMCOM-West region.