FORT LEE, Va. (March 5, 2012) -- Of all the events within the 37th Annual Military Culinary Competition currently in progress at Fort Lee, ice carving is one of the few that doesn't involve cooking.

But that's not to say the showcase lacks a high level of competiveness and skill.

"Ice carving takes a lot of skill," said Spc. Matthew McKown, with the U.S. Army Reserve Culinary Team. "And to keep up those skills, you have to practice."

Practiced or not, eight military members were ready to demonstrate their carving skills in an event that takes place outside of the Military Culinary Competition's, or MCAC's, main cooking venue. It kicked off Thursday with the solo round in which one participant is provided with a roughly 2-by-3-feet block of ice and is given three hours to complete a sculpture.

To carve out their works of art, contestants are allowed to use traditional tools such as chisels and saws but also employ chainsaws, drills, blow torches and other heating elements to cut, shape and further refine their work.

"You can use pretty much anything you can bring," said McKown.

There are also two other categories within the ice carving event -- one for a two-contestant team provided with three blocks of ice and given three hours to complete their work. The other is for a three-contestant team that is provided with up to five blocks of ice and three hours.

McKown, a resident of the Seattle area, is a first-timer to the competition but an experienced carver nonetheless. He said the level of skill in the MCAC surprised him.

"So far, I'm amazed at what the military produces," he said. "We have a lot of talent here."

During the first week of competition, the talent and skills were on full display. Under one tent stood a fairly detailed 3-foot-high horse on a pedestal. In another, a 3-foot-long sailboat complete with main and support sails sat ready for judging.

Stafford Decambra, a professional who has judged the event the past six years, said he often sees the same competitors and works to help them develop and improve their skills.

"We try to instill the finer points, elevate them and teach them about motion, level of difficulty and workmanship," he said. "When I see it all come together and get that tingly feeling on the inside, it makes me happy to know that our coaching and mentoring has made a difference."

The ice carving competition is a stand-alone event for the MCAC, meaning that it is not judged as a part of the ultimate and highly coveted installation of the year prize. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to participants. It concludes March 7.

The overall Military Culinary Arts Competition will conclude with an awards ceremony March 9 at the Fort Lee Theater. Look for more photos and coverage on the competition's Facebook page,