FORT LEE, Va. – The Army National Guard has fielded its first-ever team for the Joint Culinary Training Exercise taking place here March 3-10.
“It’s exciting,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tollie Yoder, Army National Guard food advisor, commenting on the team’s participation. “It’s not only historical, but our participation serves to show our relevance in the sustainment community.”
The JCTE, which is in its 47th year, attracts mostly active military members from all branches of the armed services and foreign countries for an occasion designed to improve culinary skills, and ultimately, troop readiness.
The American Culinary Federation sanctions the event, and its members serve as judges.
ANG’s national headquarters made several efforts over the past 15 years to participate, said Yoder, but was unsuccessful because financial resources are generally directed toward states. When changes were made to the funding mechanism, states seemed more willing to help. Iowa and Rhode Island, specifically, stepped up to the plate, said CW4 Shawn Kiene, the team’s officer in charge.
“The two states came together to create the full 10-man team plus one manager,” said the CWO in charge, field feeding, Sustainment Training Center, Camp Dodge, Iowa. “Six of us came out of Iowa; the rest came from Rhode Island.”
The newly formed team’s priority was preparing for the JCTE, Kiene. It traveled to Fort Pickett where it trained for a few days prior to the event. In comparison, some active-duty installations hone skills for six months prior to arriving at Fort Lee. Insufficient training time was but one of many challenges the team has faced, said Kiene.
“There are a lot of luxuries we don’t have,” he conceded. “The biggest issue getting here was the funding and cutting through the red tape because these Soldiers only drill one weekend a month.”
Additionally, Kiene said time spent assessing skills could have been best used to prepare for the competition.
“I knew I needed five senior Soldiers and five students,” said Kiene, “but when you’ve never worked with them, you just take recommendations from people, then try and create menus that fit what each can execute properly.”
Teams are required to submit menus prior to the JCTE, then practice them to prepare for competition.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Heroux, the team noncommissioned officer in charge, said logistics and geography notwithstanding, JCTE participation is something he treasures.
“I’m honored,” said the Soldier, a one-time JCTE competitor. “I like to coach; I like to mentor; I like to watch Soldiers succeed. Just the short time we’ve been together, we’ve watched Soldiers grow. Hopefully, on the day they must compete, we’ll have success.”
Spc. Natalie Montgomery is one of the Soldiers Heroux is mentoring. The 18-year-old assigned to the 1034th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, Camp Dodge, is only four months removed from her advanced individual training here. She also is a culinary student at Des Moines Areas Community College.
Montgomery is enthused about competing, but more importantly, wants to illustrate there is much more to feeding Soldiers than what meets the eye.
“I look forward to showing people there is passion,” she said. “People think we’re utilized only when people need food and food is what we eat. But really, there is passion behind it – you love to serve people food.”
Spc. Nia James-Knight, competing in the student team event, said many of her teammates made sacrifices in making the trip but thinks the payoff is worth it. She is the student team captain and attends Johnson and Wales as a culinary student.
“We’re gaining experience that will last a lifetime,” she said. “I can go back to Rhode Island and tell my teachers I competed in an ACF competition, which a lot of them have never done … I’m making a difference as the first student captain for the first National Guard team. Nobody else can say that.”
Despite the various challenges in forming a team, Kiene said there is victory in the air, even without picking up the first kitchen utensils in competition.
“I feel like we’ve already won because we made it here,” he said. “We were able to put people on orders, get them here and compete. That makes us winners, whether we medal or not.”
ANG Team members are scheduled to compete in such JCTE events as Armed Forces Chef of the Year, Pastry Chef of the Year, Student Team of the Year and Hot Food Kitchen categories. The National Guard is not competing for Culinary Team of the Year, JCTE’s most coveted title.
The JCTE concludes March 10 with an awards ceremony. For more information about the event, visit https://quartermaster.army.mil/47th-JCTE.html or the Advanced Culinary Skills Training Division Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Army.Culinary