FORT JACKSON, SC -- The employees at the 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment dining facility have May 12 circled on their calendars. On that day, a team of evaluators will arrive at the facility to judge its performance in the areas of taste, nutrition, food preparation, sanitation and service as part of the Philip A. Connelly Awards Program, which rewards excellence in Army food service.

However, Soldiers with the battalion should not expect to be served "special treats" specifically prepared to suit the evaluators' palettes.

"Every day in this facility is a P.A. Connelly day. When the Soldiers come through that line, we don't want to give them something that is substandard, (just) because it's not P.A. Connelly (evaluation day)," said Francisco Cruz, the 2-13th DFAC manager. "The menu we have on that day (won't) have anything special like crab legs and lobster tails. We just have the regular menu that we give the Soldiers on a daily basis."

Sidney Doctor, the facility's head cook, has worked in food service on Fort Jackson since 1996. He has never had a chance to compete in the program. He said he is looking forward to the experience.

"It's an opportunity for us to learn a lot, move forward and put us in another bracket," Doctor said. "I think it'll be a worthwhile investment."

Cruz said his expectation is that his DFAC will win the award for best large garrison dining facility. Win or lose, though, the Soldiers eating at the facility will be the beneficiaries of the experience gained, he said.

"It makes us better. It's going to make my team a better team," Cruz said. "The bottom line is that the Soldiers are going to get a better result - whether we win or lose. ... The knowledge that we're going to get out of it, it's going to pay back."

Unlike on other Army installations, all of Fort Jackson's dining facilities are manned by contractors who work for the same company, Johnson Food Services. John Nelums, quality assurance evaluator with the Directorate of Logistics, said that the experience the company has gained from competing in previous years has been passed on to all of the installation's DFACs and had a positive impact on Fort Jackson's food service as a whole. This especially applies to the lessons learned from the 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment DFAC winning the competition in 2009, he said.

"They've learned how to use different types of team work techniques in the kitchen and they've distributed that knowledge to all the dining facilities," Nelums said.

For Cruz, whose experience in Army food service encompasses more than 40 years, taking care of Soldiers is the main priority, he said, no matter whether the evaluating team is watching.

"We have to treat the Soldiers with respect," he said. "This is their kitchen. I'm their mama and daddy when it comes to feeding them."