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TAEGU, South Korea — Army Pvt. Nicholas Sachek was working the short-order line last Tuesday when the evaluation team showed up and put the dining hall under a magnifying glass.

Sachek is a cook assigned to the 20th Area Support Group’s dining facility at Camp Henry.

The facility is in the running against two other Army chow halls in South Korea for the 36th Annual 8th Army/KORO Philip A. Connelly award, which recognizes the best Army dining facilities in South Korea in three size categories, said Chief Warrant Officer Atelano Villon, 8th U.S. Army/KORO food adviser.

Dining halls serving the 8th U.S. Army Religious Retreat Center at Namsan in Seoul and the 50th Engineer Company at Camp LaGuardia also are vying for the honor.

Counting two other categories for even bigger dining facilities — “large garrison” and “field kitchen” — a total of eight units are in the South Korea-wide competition. The winners in each of the three will move on to battle for the Army-wide Connelly Award in their respective classifications, Villon said.

“To win this is to win the Super Bowl,” he said.

The Army and the International Food Service Executives Association are co-sponsoring the Connelly awards, which aim to foster excellence in preparing and serving food to soldiers.

The evaluators check everything from how the dining halls keep the account books to whether they use the right knife to cut meat.

“It was kind of hectic, you know, everyone always tryin’ to do the right thing at all times,” Sachek said of the evaluators’ visit.

“I was frying — frying chicken wings, burritos, corn dogs. And doing that, we had to follow the production schedule, get the food up right before — you don’t want it in the warmer, sitting.”

The evaluators pay close attention to cooking techniques, but that didn’t put much pressure on the short-order guy.

“The only techniques for short order would be for the chicken seasoning,” said Sachek. “Plus, pizza. If you want to throw some vegetables on there and make the pizza look presentable. … It’s an art, and most people eat with their eyes. If you have your line looking good, people come in and say, ‘Wow, that food looks good.’”

The dining hall’s 10-soldier staff expects to find out Monday if it rose to the top of South Korea.

Winning would be great, said Staff Sgt. Leslie Pollacci, the Camp Henry dining hall’s food operations sergeant, because cooks sometimes get overlooked.

“A lot of people don’t appreciate cooks … it’s hard work, it’s hard hours,” she said.

Also hoping for good news is Master Sgt. Frederick Smith, the 20th ASG’s sergeant-in-charge of Area IV food service. He’s even peeking ahead to a possible Army-wide Connelly.

“I’ll tell ya,” said Smith, “there is nothing more exciting than to be honored by everyone, by the whole Army. That’s quite an honor that only a few can actually have.”

Meanwhile, at Camp LaGuardia, it isn’t just the dining hall staff who are eagerly awaiting the outcome, said Sgt. Kenneth Hollinger, a shift leader who on Friday was overseeing a menu that included New York strip steak, baked catfish and fried shrimp.

“Our whole unit been asking us about the results, our whole unit is excited,” said Hollinger. “To us, it’s like, we know we set standards here, we’re just keeping the standards up and trying to improve them every day, feeding our soldiers.”

And at the 8th U.S. Army Religious Retreat Center dining facility, “everybody keeps calling me asking how we did,” said Staff Sgt. Robin Duffing, food service sergeant, “and I tell them … they’re supposed to let us know by e-mail, so everybody is on edge right now. We’re waiting to hear the answer.”

Three dining facilities in South Korea are entered in the “large-garrison” category, those with a seating capacity of 401 or more. They include the 2nd Infantry Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Division Support Command, at Camp Casey; 17th Aviation Brigade, K-16 Air Base, Seoul; and the 527th Military Intelligence Battalion, Camp Humphreys.

In the “field kitchen” category, those equipped to function as field kitchens, are: Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, Camp Garry Owen; and the 501st Combat Support Group, Camp Red Cloud.

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