Story by Cpl Adeline Smith on 05/05/2014CAMP KINSER, Japan - To win the most prestigious award in Marine Corps food services, Marines with Camp Kinser's Mess Hall 1223 not only had to heat food to the right temperature, scrub and sanitize countless cooking utensils, stock fresh produce, and sweep and mop frequently, but also took the time to learn more about food practices, got to know patrons and their food preferences, and worked together as a team to provide stellar customer service.
After 22 days of inspecting mess halls in the U.S. and overseas, the National Restaurant Association selected Mess Hall 1223 on Camp Kinser as the best Military/Contractor Garrison Mess Hall in the Marine Corps April 14.
The title is one of four award categories in the 2014 Maj. Gen. William Pendleton Thompson Hill Memorial Awards Program.
The mess hall was judged by subject matter experts in 17 categories including operations, sanitation, food taste and quality.
Mess Hall 1223 had previously competed against other Marine Corps mess halls on Okinawa, and won the title of 2013 Marine Corps Installations Pacific Best Mess Hall of the Year. This qualified them to participate in the W.P.T. Hill Memorial Awards Program.
In an effort to encourage excellence in the military food service specialty, the W.P.T. Hill Memorial Awards Program was established in 1985. It recognizes a mess hall team's overall effort in culinary skill, the Marines' commitment to better serve its patrons, and knowledge of food, equipment and sanitization that is applied on a daily basis.
Inspections conducted throughout the year not only checked food service quality, but also were used as a means to prepare for the competition, according to Gunnery Sgt. Oscar D. Jaramillo, the manager of Mess Hall 1223 and food service specialist with Food Service Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
"The inspections are toward every mess hall," said Jaramillo, a Miami, Fla., native. "It's to improve the quality of service for the patrons that come through the mess hall. It becomes another level when it comes together to be the best of the best."
Even while competing with the cream of the crop, Mess Hall 1223 was prepared for the challenge, according to Jaramillo.
"By doing the right thing, every day, it became second nature to do what we were supposed to and (serve) quality food," said Sgt. Jonathan A. Denham, a chief cook and food service specialist with the company. "It wasn't just one person's effort. It took everybody working together as a team."
When the Marines received word that they were awarded the best Military/Contractor Garrison Mess Hall in the Marine Corps, they were excited, according to Master Sgt. Michael L. McNeal, the operations officer of Mess Hall 1223.
"I'm honored and proud of the Marines in 1223. They did an outstanding job," said McNeal, a Columbus, Ga., native. "Marines here are taking the skills they have and putting them to use. They take pride in preparing the food for the patrons that come in here, and they performed like a well-oiled machine."
In recognition of their achievement, representatives from Mess Hall 1223 are slated to attend the National Restaurant Association Awards Ceremony May 16 in Chicago, Ill.