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Spc. John Rex, 23, of Mays Landing, N.J., prepares desserts Wednesday at Campbell Barracks under the watchful eyes of Maj. Brad Hinson, an evaluator for the Phillip A. Connelly award.
Spc. John Rex, 23, of Mays Landing, N.J., prepares desserts Wednesday at Campbell Barracks under the watchful eyes of Maj. Brad Hinson, an evaluator for the Phillip A. Connelly award. (Rick Scavetta / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — Friday’s menu at the Any Mission Diner was chicken tempura with sweet-and-sour glaze, catfish American, Vienna-style schnitzel, saffron rice and thyme potato latkes.

“We run this meal all the time,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Rine. “It’s straight out of our recipe book. We just take the Army standard to a higher level.”

It’s that higher level that has gotten the cooks at the Campbell Barracks’ mess hall some recognition.

On Friday, the dining facility was being judged for the Phillip A. Connelly competition. The diner is the Installation Management Agency-Europe’s finalist for the small-garrison competition. As diner workers were preparing meals and serving customers, three evaluators strolled through the kitchens with checklists.

“These soldiers have been trained for this,” Rine said. “We’re doing today what we do every day.”

But their dining facility is not your everyday mess hall.

The cozy diner is decked out in 1950s decor. Behind the serving line, cooks sport tall white hats. The napkins have Coca-Cola stamps. Elvis plays softly as troops enter the diner in the basement of the Keyes Building, just downstairs from the office of U.S. Army Europe Commander Gen. B.B. Bell.

Staff Sgt. Michael Rudd had his first meal in the diner Friday, after friends told him about the lunch menu.

“They say whenever there’s a competition, the food is really good here,” said Rudd, 32, of Philadelphia, as he finished off a helping of chicken garnished with orange. “I’m really enjoying it.”

The team of evaluators took diners’ comments into account and much more, they said.

“Most people think we’re just looking at the food,” said Maj. Brad Hinson, 34, of Memphis, Tenn. “But we’re looking at the whole dining facility.”

The judges evaluate each mess hall from a checklist that focuses on about a dozen aspects of food service, said Sgt. Maj. David Green, 40, of Hankamer, Texas.

In addition to scrutinizing food quality and preparation, Green and his colleagues look at how the staff is trained and supervised, how rations are received and stored, the sanitation and safety of the kitchen, and the appearance and administration of the eating area.

Five small-garrison facilities are competing, said Phil Cardinal, who manages a dining hall at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. Already the team has visited Fort Stewart, Ga. After Heidelberg, the judges travel to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and Fort Riley, Kan. A sixth competitor at Fort Hood, Texas, had to withdraw because of an upcoming deployment.

The Army Center of Excellence, Subsistence, U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School oversees the Connelly awards. Established in March 1968, the awards program is geared to promote excellence in Army food service.

The competition is judged in five categories: small- and large-garrison facilities, field kitchens, Army Reserve and National Guard. Major commands selected finalists during competitions earlier this year.

The 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment dining facility in Hohenfels, Germany, the large-garrison finalist, will be evaluated next Friday. The U.S. Army Europe finalist for field kitchen cooking, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, of Vilseck, Germany, was evaluated Oct. 23.

The results of this year’s competition should be released by mid-December.

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