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Chili con Guarde: Flying Yankees take 3rd place in regional chili contest

A field of tents is seen during the 2010 New England Chili Cook-Off at Pleasant View Farms, Somers, Conn. May 1, 2010. Approximately 3,500 people attended the event to taste chili and contribute to the Patriot Guard Riders organization and Somers Fire Department. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead)

A field of tents is seen during the 2010 New England Chili Cook-Off at Pleasant View Farms, Somers, Conn. May 1, 2010. Approximately 3,500 people attended the event to taste chili and contribute to the Patriot Guard Riders organization and Somers Fire Department. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead)

Tech. Sgt. Christopher Grizzle, recruiter, Connecticut Air National Guard, spoons out a tasting of Capt. Garrett Caponetti’s chili during the 2010 New England Chili Cook-Off at Pleasant View Farms, Somers, Conn. May 1, 2010. The chili won third place in the People’s Choice category among 80 other chili cooks from 18 different states. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead)

Tech. Sgt. Christopher Grizzle, recruiter, Connecticut Air National Guard, spoons out a tasting of Capt. Garrett Caponetti’s chili during the 2010 New England Chili Cook-Off at Pleasant View Farms, Somers, Conn. May 1, 2010. The chili won third place in the People’s Choice category among 80 other chili cooks from 18 different states. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead)

Aiden O’Neill, 4, has a good time “flying” the mini A-10 during the 2010 New England Chili Cook-Off at Pleasant View Farms, Somers, Conn. May 1, 2010. Aiden and his parents were but a few of the 3,500 people that attended the all-day event contributing to the $18,000 dollars to be split between the Connecticut Patriot Guard Riders and the Somers Fire Department. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead)

Aiden O’Neill, 4, has a good time “flying” the mini A-10 during the 2010 New England Chili Cook-Off at Pleasant View Farms, Somers, Conn. May 1, 2010. Aiden and his parents were but a few of the 3,500 people that attended the all-day event contributing to the $18,000 dollars to be split between the Connecticut Patriot Guard Riders and the Somers Fire Department. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead)

SOMERS, Conn. -- Spring was in the air Saturday, May 1, 2010, along with the pungent smell of cumin, chili and spice as the Connecticut Air National Guard dished out some chili during the 2010 New England Regional Chili Cook-Off.

The event, sanctioned by the International Chili Society, is the next step for Capt. Garrett Caponetti's chili after winning at the technician's Christmas party at Bradley Air National Guard Base, in 2009.

The chili, dubbed "JP-8" by 1st Lt. Matthew P. Scheidel, a helping hand who performed "quality checks on the chili," was one of many entries that sun-filled afternoon at Pleasant View Farms in Somers.

The event boasted close to 80 chili cooks from 18 different states and included judging categories in red chili, green chili Verde and salsa, said Michael "Mad Mike" Freedman, chairman of the New England Regional Chili Cook-Off.

The non-judged category, people's choice, was the category in which Caponetti's chili took third place, impressing approximately 3,500 attendants.

"People's choice is anything but the kitchen sink. You can put anything in there, and the more you put in there, the better it is," said Mad Mike.

Jason Eckley, a chili cook-off participant, came out to enjoy a nice day with his family and eat some chili and said the Connecticut Air National Guard chili was good, "...it had a nice sweet flavor to it and wasn't too overpowering."

The chili was not the only attraction that the 103rd provided. As participants came up to taste the chili, recruiters handed out footballs and answered question about opportunities in the Guard while others were able to take pictures sitting in the mini A-10.

"I will tell you something, the Air National Guard stepped up. I asked for help, these guys were like the cavalry," said Mad Mike.

A cavalry armed with spoons and eager taste buds, just like volunteer chili judges Tech. Sgt. Dawn Whelan, base contracting officer, 103rd Mission Support Group, and 2nd Lt. Dawn Surprenant, an environmental scientist with the 103rd Airlift Wing.

"I volunteered for the Chili Cook-Off not only to see what it was all about since it was the first time I was able to attend, but also to taste the chili," said Surprenant. "It was a great experience for interacting with the community. I found that the community was very excited to see us in uniform interacting with them. I enjoyed answering all the questions they asked and it was very rewarding to hear all the 'thank yous' for serving. I would recommend it to everyone for next year."

Volunteering for these events shows the commitment and support the Guard has for its local communities and affords the Guard the opportunity to tell the CTANG story.
"I think that it is important for the Guard to be involved in community events, it shows that we are here in Connecticut. It's good representation. When we have people that come and talk to us, we can answer them honestly about what we do and that's actually a good way for us to promote our unit," said Whelan.

According to Mad Mike, the event is meant to raise money for the Patriot Guard Riders of Connecticut and the Somers, Conn. Fire Department. According to Mad Mike, the two organizations will split around $18,000.

"They need the help and we want to help them," said Mad Mike. "That's what we do."