Two years after earning the title of best large-garrison food facility in the Army, the Freedom Inn again made a run at the prestigious Philip A. Connelly Award.

The Fort Meade chow hall was awarded second place in the food service competition. Freedom Inn competed in the civilian large-garrison category and was only topped by Casey Main Dining Facility, Camp Casey, Korea.

“It feels good,” said Samuel Sankey, the contracting officer representative at the Directorate of Logistics. “We’ve been working hard at this.”

This year’s award is the third time since 2005 that a Fort Meade facility has been recognized in the competition, which awards the Army’s top food service facilities in several categories including small and large garrison; military and civilian; and camp kitchens.

Melba Taylor, contract manager for the Maryland Business Enterprise Program, said Fort Meade began competing for the Connelly Award after she arrived in 2003. The “desire to compete” led to entering the competition, she said.

In 2005, the Chesapeake Inn — the installation’s former dining hall — was the runner-up in the small-garrison category. Then six years later, the Freedom Inn won the large-garrison category.

For this year’s competition, facilities were judged in 14 categories that include food safety, supervision, serving, and food preparation and quality. Each of the dining halls start the competition with 1,000 points, with deductions taken for mistakes during the judging

“It’s tedious,” Sankey said.

Out of more than 120 civilian-operated facilities in the Army, only a total of seven were selected to compete in the civilian large-garrison category. Freedom Inn was selected to represent the Installation Management Command’s Northeast Region in the 2013 Armywide competition.

In addition to Casey Main Dining Facility, Freedom Inn was up against U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr, Germany; DFAC 50, Fort McCoy, Wis.; Presidio of Monterey, Calif.; and Army Drill Sergeant School, Fort Jackson, S.C.

To prepare for the judging, which was held Nov. 8, 2012, staff conducted test runs of the planned meal every Thursday for a month. Sankey critiqued the facility with the same sheet judges use.

The meal, which was created by Freedom Inn manager Howard Mountain, was part of the reason the facility finished in the top group this year.

“One of the judges was a chef,” Mountain said. “He was saying he hasn’t seen a dining facility that made meals like we made meals.

“I developed that menu and wrote it out, and we did it from scratch. We do a lot of things from scratch that some dining facilities don’t do because they have so much pre-made stuff. It makes a big difference when you things like that.”

The Freedom Inn will receive a plaque that will sit alongside the other Connelly hardware in the trophy case near the front door.

Sankey said the successes can be attributed to a devoted staff — many of whom have participated in the competition all three times.

“It comes from the heart,” he said. “You have to feel what you do. When the service member comes to the line, you have to feel that service, every time.”

Mountain agreed.

“I couldn’t have done it by myself,” he said. “I have a great bunch of employees that are dedicated.”

Taylor said the Freedom Inn’s partners — including MBEP, Son’s Quality Foods and the garrison — have helped establish the facility as an annual contender.

“It’s not by accident,” she said. “We have a good team.”

The Freedom Inn will begin gearing up for another year of competing after the summer.

After finishing second this year, Mountain said his staff is motivated to win the big trophy once again.

“We’ll see what we can do and see if we can win it next year,” he said. “We’ll see if we can get that ring again.”

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