FORT LEE, Va. (March 12, 2015) -- While many longtime competitors have returned to Fort Lee’s 40th annual Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event, there are a number of junior military members from both sides of the ocean here for the first time.

Each is excited to be part of their respective teams and having the opportunity to gain valuable experience.

“Every day, I just try to make the best food I can,” said Navy Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Caleb Abdinoor who is on the Hawaii culinary team. “This is a way to better myself, hone new skills and learn new techniques I can take back to my fleet.” He is stationed aboard the USS Preble, a guided missile destroyer based in Pearl Harbor.

“This is my first time competing. I have always had a passion for food and grew up cooking. My mom taught me,” Abdinoor said.

He relishes the teamwork ethic, in particular.

“It’s a team effort and we help each other out,” he said. “We all make sure everyone is squared away and they have everything they need. This is bigger than just myself.”

He is proud he helped his team win a gold medal in the mobile kitchen trailer event on Saturday, also known as the military hot food kitchen.

“My job was just to serve the people who came to eat, but I was still part of the team,” he noted.

For Pfc. Carey Lee with the U.S. Army Fort Huachuca, Ariz., culinary team, “The experience is great and means a lot to me. It took a lot of hard work to get here, and I’m still doing a lot of hard work preparing for the competition. Boy did we practice.”

A native of Jamaica, his father owned a restaurant on the island and he began working there when he was 16 years old. He also worked at resorts in Cape Cod, Mass., including serving as a supervisor at one.

Lee said, “I joined the Army to go to culinary school, and being here means a lot.”

“It was such a huge honor to be chosen to come over and compete with the Americans,” said Thomas “Jules” M. Andrews, an able seaman with the British Royal Navy and Marines culinary team.

A native of the Isle of Wight, Andrews has served in the Royal Navy for 5 years – joining when he was 17. He has been on the team since 2011.

Andrews said, “This is the highlight of my service. It’s good to see how the other side lives too. It takes a lot of dedication, time, patience and skill to be part of our team. It was in December when we learned we were coming over – a lot of time to get excited.

Like all the competitors, he noted it took a lot of planning.

One of his other young team members, Able Seaman Hannah E. Powell said she has served in the Royal Navy for 18 months,

“It’s really good to be here,” said Powell. “I’ve been in a few other competitions so that helped. This is a great opportunity to learn.”

She specializes in the hot sweets category and said she had to become accustomed to some different ingredients here not available in Great Britain.

Spc. Garrett J. Nauta on the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., culinary team has been around cooking for many years, but this is his first competition.

“I am the oldest of eight and had to learn how to cook when I was real young,” said Nauta.

­“It’s a great opportunity to get away from my regular day of work here – excelling and going beyond. I just want to gain more experience. I am really passionate about a culinary career. I really enjoy what I do.”

A native of Guam, Nauta has been in the Army for two years. He found out in December he had made the JBLM team. “It definitely has been a lot of training, long hours and hard work. It’s all worth it in the end.”

His work paid off when he won a silver medal in the Student Chef of the Year event on Sunday for a chicken seared dish.

Nauta said, “I was fine before I got there and then got a little nervous, but I settled down.”