GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - The Lawrence T. Hickey Dining Facility has once again established itself as the best civilian-run mess hall in Europe by winning this year's U.S. Army Europe Phillip A. Connelly Award.

The Connelly Award recognizes "The Best in Food Service" for military dining facilities based on personal hygiene, preparation, sanitation, fiscal restraint and, of course, food quality. As the USAREUR victors, the Hickey DFAC will move onto the "A" level and contend for the title of top civilian-run DFAC in the Army.

The Hickey DFAC, which serves members of the NCO Academy in Camp Normandy, is no stranger to the Connelly Award. The facility has won at the Army-wide level twice since 2002, most recently in 2006, and has been crowned USAREUR champion on eight occasions since 2002, the last time in 2008.

This standard of excellence is simply the Hickey DFAC's method of operation, and not grandstanding for the judges, said civilian manager Guenther Melzig.

"For us, it's the way we do business. We don't do anything different," said Melzig. "My people have been here 20 years. For us, it's an everyday thing. There's not that much difference from an everyday meal we prepare."

A large part of their success, claims Melzig, was the Hickey DFAC's willingness to embrace the Army's campaign for healthier food choices.

"Over the years, the criteria always change," said Melzig. "The big winner now is 'Go for Green,' so we've changed our menu around."

Go for Green encourages Soldiers to eat nutritious foods and urges dining facilities to provide it. This means an emphasis on vegetarian dishes, produce and lean meats such as chicken breasts and fish.

The initiative also pushes dining facilities to trim down popular items. This means taking cheese off burgers, frosting off cupcakes and keeping hot dogs chili-free.

These efforts to cut fat and unnecessary calories make the Connelly judges smile.
"When they see you try to do that, they like it," Melzig said.

This focus on leanness proves a significant departure from the heavy, calorie-laden food the Army previously pushed the dining facilities to provide, explained Melzig. But, the persistent issue of growing waistlines and failed physical fitness tests eventually forced the Pentagon to reconsider its methods.

Constant safety inspections meant to maintain a high standard for food preparation give the Hickey DFAC another edge on the competition.

"If you stay on top of these things, there's nothing to worry about," said Melzig.

The evaluators for the top spot of the Army-wide Connelly Award will arrive from Fort Lee in Virginia sometime between October and December. Much like a restaurant review, the judges show up unannounced. But, that doesn't bother the Hickey DFAC at all. The winners will be announced in January 2013.