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April 2, 2015 at 11:20am

Washington National Guard hosted its annual menu board selection and food demonstration

Washington National Guard’s Aviation Readiness Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord played host to this year’s Washington National Guard FY15 WA Guard Food Service Menu Board Event. Photo credit: Gary Lott

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The Washington National Guard hosted its annual menu board selection and food demonstration event March 27 in its Aviation Readiness Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord with the goal of selecting this year's new menu items for drilling service members.

"Servicemembers need to learn new skills, and those skill sets play a role in our ability to do more from scratch, to feed more and still stay within the budget," said the Guard's Food Program Manager Master Sgt. Darrell DeGroff.

The purpose of the event was to allow servicemembers an opportunity to learn more and help decide on the menu items that they will see during their drill/AT weekends in the coming year.

Along with selecting meals, attendees also had the opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of different food samplings from dozens of food vendors like Sysco, PepsiCo and US Foods.

While the taste testing of the latest and greatest food items was occurring downstairs, culinary competitions took place upstairs with various local schools and colleges.

"Our high school is so military centric because we have so many military kids that go through our school," said Lakes High School sophomore Anna Short, who participated in the day's culinary competition.

Lakes High, Steilacoom High and Bates Technical Culinary students all had to use the same primary ingredients to create a meal that cost no less or no more than $4.09 per person.

"Conceptualization was the most difficult part of today's meal," said Bates Technical culinary student Anthony Brooks.  "It's important how these plates look as well, and we wanted to take the budget and meal choice and make it more exciting."

>>> A Culinary Arts Program student from Bates Technical College communicates on what techniques they used to craft the vegetable portion of his presented meal.  Command members of the Washington National Guard were the official judges for the culinary competition that took place during this year's FY15 WA Guard Food Service Menu Board Event. Photo credit: Gary Lott

The chefs also had to ensure that the total amount of their ingredients could feed 100 servicemembers.

Short gave a familiar-sounding description of how resiliency fits into her cooking career, similar to the military.

"We have to learn how to work together really well," she said. "You've got to learn how to listen to others, work together and check up on each other to see how everyone's doing."

Food brings people together, and that message is one that should resonate with every FY15 Menu Board attendee.

In other words, food isn't just about eating.

"The Army is coming to understand that food means more than eating," DeGroff said. "It is, as we say, feeding the soul, the mind, the body and the spirit.  It's a part of our big Army cycle of physical fitness."

>>> These Culinary Arts Program students from Bates Technical College show off their FY15 Outstanding College Culinary Arts Team award for winning this year's college culinary competition.  Each group had to spend a $4.09 budget per servicemember to prepare a lasagna and salad plate. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Involving the servicemembers that actually eat the food to become a part of selecting the food that they eat sounds like a reasonable idea and is something that remains a focus of the Washington National Guard.

"The fact that we are reaching out to our customers to get them in, so they can have an influence, is impactful for all of us," DeGroff said.

Anyone who has had a really good meal probably agrees with the fact that food has many feelings of endearment associated with it.

"We care about each other, and it's demonstrated in food here," DeGroff added.  "These menu boards allow for training and (food) demos to remind these soldiers that they just don't come here to throw a meal out and go home."

>>> The Washington National Guard's 81st HBCT Annual First Place Trophy for the Philip A. Connelly Award for Excellence in Field Kitchen Competition was on display for this year's FY15 WA Guard Food Service Menu Board Event. Photo credit: Gary Lott

The biggest addition this year from last was the inclusion of the Washington Restaurant Association. 

"The troops have to be healthy and vibrant to protect us, so food safety is critical," said guest judge and Washington Restaurant Association Director of Education Lyle Hildahl. 

Hildahl provided constructive criticism to the students throughout the competition.

With servicemembers relaxed and full of savory snacks, the FY 15 WA Food Service Menu Board also provided resiliency support resources.

"The number of younger soldiers that we have that leave our drill weekend that don't have a place to live, that don't have a job, are unfortunately increasing dramatically," added DeGroff.

Suicide Prevention, Family Programs and Employment Transition Services representatives from the Joint Services Support Directorate-Washington National Guard were present throughout the day for servicemembers to utilize as well.

"If you provide hope, if you provide a challenge, then you lift them, you get them engaged," DeGroff said.  "Getting them to go to these people is very difficult, but bringing these people to them in a place like this, where they are away from their family and just relaxing, is very beneficial.

"They let down their guard and become more willing to pull someone to the side and have that conversation than they would back in their unit."

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