FORT BLISS, Texas--Six teams of Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 362nd Air Defense Artillery, competed to be named "the Best in the West" at the unit's first chili cook-off Dec. 3.

The event was coordinated as a fundraiser for the unit's family readiness group to support the entire cost of the unit Christmas party so the Soldiers and their family members don't have to pay out-of-pocket expenses.

Entries in the cook-off included a typical ground beef-based chili, venison chili, pulled-beef chili, white-chicken chili, sirloin-tip chili and one chili with beer, coffee and cocoa. The event also incorporated a team-building competition.

"I really enjoyed the chili cook-off," said Sgt. Frank Vargas, an Operation Warrior trainer. "It was a great opportunity to meet fellow Soldiers, [and] I had the opportunity to taste test six different styles of chili."

The cook-off was described by event coordinators as an exercise in the military decision-making process. From the beginning, the teams conducted analyses, built courses of action, determined which recipes were best, discarded others, and then executed their plan.

One group of competitors, Team Alpha, consisted of Master Sgt. Larry Townsend and Sgts. 1st Class Marco Barajas and Mark Woodward.

"After finding out the battalion was having a chili cook-off, Barajas asked me if Team Alpha wanted to put together a team to compete in the contest," said Townsend. "Woodward Googled a recipe online that was recommended, and we went with it. We were going to substitute beef with buffalo meat, but it was too expensive."

Staff Sgt. Leonard Hlavin explained how his team spent their time creating their entry in the cook-off.

"The night prior, we went to the Commissary and spent $65 on all the ingredients," said Hlavin. "We then proceeded to Woodward's house, whose wife was gracious enough to allow us to use her kitchen. We spent an hour prepping and one and a half to two hours for cooking."

Judges for the cook-off were Col. Francis V. Sherman Jr., commander of 5th Armored Brigade; Lt. Col. George Whitmire, commander of 1-362 ADA; and Master Sgt. Lyle Frisby, Operations sergeant major for 5th Armored Bde.
"It was tough to choose the top winner because they were all so delicious," said Sherman.

"The mixture of sweet and hot and the ground beef and chunks of sirloin were the deciding factor over the close runner-up," said Frisby.

"My favorite was the winning chili made by Barajas, from the 1-362nd," said Vargas. "I had two bowls with oyster crackers and cheese."

"All of our team members, including Woodward's wife and kids, had a great time making the chili," said Hlavin. "Knowing that we had fun and that we raised money for the FRG was what mattered to us. Winning first place was a bonus."

Nearly $340 was raised in three hours, all of which was donated to the FRG fund. The winning team will enter its winning chili recipe in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy's annual cook-off next year.

The winning team members each won a $20 Army and Air Force Exchange Service gift card, received a certificate from the battalion commander and sergeant major for their accomplishment, and a brigade coin from Sherman.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16