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Cook-off raises funds for memorial, EC Police Athletic League

By William F. West

Staff Writer

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When one thinks Coast Guard, perhaps the most immediate reaction is the sight of people being rescued by boat or helicopter teams or the sight of confiscated illegal drugs after bad guys are caught at sea.

What may not make the headlines is the Elizabeth City branch of the Coast Guard Enlisted Association, which is a non-profit dedicated to assisting fellow shipmates and the Harbor of Hospitality community.

The local CGEA is seeking to have an increased presence. One way the organization did so was late last month with a first annual barbecue cookout and cook-off in the parking lot of the local Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association, which is located along Cardwell Street.

A three-judge panel served, including the special guest, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell.

Part of the purpose of the gathering was to help raise funds for construction at Cape May, New Jersey, of a Coast Guard memorial that will honor more than 1,500 enlisted personnel who lost their lives performing or supporting missions.

Another purpose of the gathering was to help raise funds to support the Elizabeth City Police Athletic League, which is a community-based initiative to benefit the Albemarle region’s youth by bringing them together with law enforcement in the same sports-related setting.

The local PAL also is known for partnering with the River City Fraternal Order of Police for the annual Halloween “Fright Nights” fundraiser at the former Elizabeth City Middle School. Numerous Coast Guard personnel volunteer for the event.

The local CGEA sold approximately 250 plates of barbecue, which came to approximately $2,000 in funds raised after additional donations. A silent auction also brought in an additional $1,100.

Yeoman Third Class Alex Szilagyi, who works in administration at Air Station Elizabeth City, is president of the local CGEA.

Szilagyi said while the local CGEA helps junior Coast Guard personnel at Base Elizabeth City, members help out “all over the place” locally, from giving time to organizations such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Northeastern North Carolina and the Kids First child abuse treatment center.

The national Coast Guard Enlisted Association was formed under the auspices of the national Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association.

Asked why he became involved in the local CGEA, Szilagy said, “To give back.”

“Volunteerism was instilled in me at a very young age. I’ve been volunteering over a decade now – and I really enjoy doing it,” he said.

Szilagy recalled going to a local CGEA meeting shortly after he reported for duty in Elizabeth City. “And it clicked,” he said.

The early part of the gathering was private and reserved for local CGEA members and their families, but the two top barbecue cookers were readily available to speak later.

Petty Officers First Class Jose Colon and John Walton are “C” School instructors at the Aviation Technical Training Center. The two teammates also are North Carolina natives who appear to be quite skilled at cooking on a grill and providing quite a tasty barbecued meal.

“Hard work, dedication and some damn-good barbecue,” Colon said, who is from Harnett County, with a smile and a laugh when asked how he and Walton finished first.

Of the presence of barbecue in North Carolina, Colon said, “I think part of it is an identity like tobacco and all the other things we do.”

“Some people like Duke, but I think most of us like Tar Heels,” he said of the state’s basketball culture, although he quickly noted the presence of N.C. State alumni and students in the Albemarle region. “Basketball and barbecue: That’s North Carolina.”

While Colon has been eating barbecue almost his whole life, the local CGEA marked the first time he cooked in a competitive atmosphere.

Walton, on the other hand, has been cooking barbecue for approximately 20 years. His father owned a couple of barbecue restaurants in Sanford.

Of engaging in competition for a good cause, Walton said, “We love it.”

Cantrell, in an email later, said, “It is always great to visit Elizabeth City. The barbecue and the cook-off was a wonderful opportunity to each other’s company – and see who’s got the best skills behind the grill.”

Walton noted his and Colon’s leftover barbecue would be sold as sandwiches for an annual flag football tournament set for the middle of this month. The tournament will be hosted by the local CGEA and held at Elizabeth City State University.

Walton said he would certainly be on the gridiron. Asked the position he is going to be playing, he said, “Whatever they need.”

Enjoying a meal was Capt. James Martin, who’s the commanding officer of the Aviation Logistics Center. “It was fantastic,” he said of the gathering.

Of the local CGEA, he said, “They do great work, so we’re happy to be here to help that.”


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