FORT HOOD, Texas - At Fort Hood, a post packed with tankers, cavalry troops and infantry grunts, even cooks have their place.
As the sole providers of hot chow while units train in the field and labor in combat zones, food service specialists uphold a vital mission that helps set the foundation for success on the battlefield. Quite literally, they fuel the Army.
A team of hard-charging food service Soldiers from Fort Hood's own 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade is certainly no exception to excellence when it comes to serving food. From March to November 2009, the team changed its pace a bit and dished up some stiff competition in the 42nd annual, Army-wide Phillip A. Connelly Competition for Excellence in Food Service.
Gen. Charles Campbell, the commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, recognized the seven-man team of Soldiers Tuesday at III Corps' headquarters building for taking top honors at the FORSCOM level in June 2009 and finishing as the runner-up team for the Department of the Army just four months later.
Just minutes before awarding the group certificates of commendation, Campbell pulled from his own experiences in the field and emphasized the importance of Army cooks while Soldiers work and train in the field and under combat conditions.
After a good meal, everyone walks out of the chow tent feeling a little bit better, Campbell said.
This kind of encouragement is part of what judges from major commands throughout the Army and the Department of the Army level were hoping to find.
The 69th ADA Soldiers vied with several other culinary teams from across the Army in June for the first-place spot at the FORSCOM level and again in October for the prestige of best food services team in the Army.
Culinary teams were placed into specific battlefield scenarios and critiqued on the layout of their kitchen sites; the preparation and service of their food; the sanitation of their sites and kitchen containment tents; and the basic level of food service knowledge possessed by the team.
Each team maintained its site for more than 100 consecutive days, and after months of battling inclement weather in the field and of all things, wandering livestock, when push came to shove, the 69th ADA Soldiers fell just short of their ultimate goal. Still, they're more than pleased with their hours of grueling performance. For this team, the satisfaction of a job well done was enough.
"It makes me realize how proud I am to be a food service specialist," said Staff Sgt. Vicente Benites, the team's lead sergeant, who accepted a plaque Tuesday on behalf of the entire group. "All the hard work we put in really paid off."
"Some of the Soldiers we served said the food was better than at the dining facilities; some of them said the steak we served was better than most restaurants," said Sgt. Donald Davis, a field sanitation sergeant with the team.
Something Soldiers can always use is training, and with this competition, the 69th ADA chefs got more than their fair share.
"The most valuable thing was the training and knowledge of setting up a field site to standard," said Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Hagans, the brigade's food advisor.
The Soldiers will travel to Reno, Nevada, in mid April to formally accept their award as the runner-up food services team for the Department of the Army.