Civic-minded cook-off winner donates big TV to Red Cross

CAMP RED CLOUD South Korea -- It used to be that if the Red Cross needed to show training videos to people taking first aid or other classes at Camp Red Cloud, they'd have to bus them all the way to Camp Casey to watch the videos.

That's because their TV at Red Cloud was only a 12-inch screen and things just got too strained if ten or so had to crowd around that one small screen.

But no longer, thanks to the prize-winning cooking talents and civic-minded generosity of a retired Soldier who now works for the U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud in Uijeongbu.

John Smith -- his real name, not an alias -- won first-prize for his entry in the March 24 chili cook-off at Red Cloud's Mitchell's Club. Smith, 43, is training support specialist with USAG Red Cloud's Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

His prize was a brand new 42-inch Panasonic plasma TV. And he promptly donated it to the Red Cross, where his wife Jhona is a devoted volunteer who's helped recruit dozens more volunteers. Smith retired as a sergeant first class in 2010 after 21-years in uniform.

This was his very first cooking contest.

The big new TV will make a huge difference for Red Cross training classes at Red Cloud, said its station manager, Leonard Mendonca.

Mendonca was scheduled to give CPR and first aid training this week to eight people from the Camp Red Cloud dental clinic, something scheduled before Smith won and donated the TV.

"I probably woulda had to put 'em on a bus and send 'em to Casey," said Mendonca.
"But now," said Mendonca, "I don't have to do that. I can keep 'em right here on my base. Now, with this TV in the classroom -- wow! Forty-two inch. They can just sit there comfortably and see it."

It was at Mendonca's urging that Smith entered the chili cook-off.

That goes back to one day last month during the annual Key Resolve exercise. Both were among those working long hours in the Red Cloud command post and Smith brought in a big pot of his chili and shared it with the others.

"And I was 'Oh my God, this is great,'" said Mendonca. "I kid you not, it was a big pot and that chili was gone in 15 minutes. Everybody grabbed a big bowl of it and it was gone in 15 minutes.

"I started talking to him," said Mendonca. "Told him we were having a chili cook-off and I said 'Have you ever thought of entering a contest? I need someone to represent Red Cross. Your wife's a volunteer. Don't say no.' And then he said okay."
"That was the whole intention of me representing Red Cross from the beginning," said Smith, "Any prizes that I won during the competition I was going to donate for Red Cross."

He had two aims, he said. One, to support the Red Cross "and what they do." But also to "lead by example" and take part in community events in hopes of encouraging others to do so.

"Because there are a lot of good things that are going on out there in the community," Smith said.

Smith's winning recipe is closely held, just in case he competes in future chili contests.

But he did disclose a few things about his winning approach to the cook-off.

"The plan was just to keep it simple as far as the recipe, something I thought people would like, not trying to make it too hot to where it was inedible, but to where it was something people would enjoy.

He did have one strong clue during the contest that his might well be the winning entry.

While they were in Mitchell's awaiting the decision of the three-judge panel, samples were made available to the spectators.

One spectator in particular was enjoying bowl after bowl of Smith's chili.

"He stood there like, one after another," said Smith. "So I kind of had a feeling I had a pretty good product."