Camp V in Tyler stands for “Community Assisting Military Personnel and Veterans.” On Saturday, Camp V also stood for great steak.

When Tom Koehler, a supervisor with Country Meat Market in Tyler, rolled out the Charlie Daniels Black Label Reserve sirloins, the cooking began, as the Air Force, Army and Camp V fired up grills and different rubs and marinades. The market hosted the Charlie Daniels Steak Cook Off, which was won by the Air Force.

Voting was done by Smith County constables and through donations at each table, but the true winners were the public, who tasted the abundance of free samples, and the amount of money donated to Camp V.

At the Air Force table was the Torres family, with Ivan Torres and his wife, Terri Torres, both Air Force veterans, cooking with assistance from their son, Mike Torres, who is an active lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. His brother, Ivan Torres, retired from the Navy.

“My family came here three years ago and I grew to love this place so much I moved here,” said Mike Torres. “My dad, who was in the Austin area, he also fell in love and moved here. We hope to be lifelong residents of the Tyler area.”

Mike Torres said he was checking out meat markets and the Charlie Daniels brand of steaks and heard about the event to raise awareness for Camp V.

“Why not join the friendly competition?” Mike Torres said. “We wanted to represent the Air Force and our local Air Force recruiters helped us with some swag to give out.”

The Air Force family was making their special garlic steak recipe and also used a new seasoning sold at Country Meat Market.

Over at the Army National Guard grill, Cody Smothermon and John Stewart were cooking while Ben Theiring was entertaining the crowd on his guitar and singing.

The steaks cooked by the Army were melting in the mouth of the judges, but Stewart said he was impressed with the other grill masters and Camp V.

“I’m really glad we have Camp V and they are available,” Stewart said. “It’s a version of brotherhood when you get out.”

Mike Cichowicz, the Camp V executive director, and Camp V veteran advocates Casey Olson and Wayne Dickson couldn’t get their different flavors of steak on the sample tray fast enough.

“We are always looking to establish partnerships, get the word out about Camp V, be good community leaders and show awareness for veterans and their families while supporting local businesses,” Cichowicz said. “We make a guarantee, ‘We are here for you.’ We are open Monday to Friday 9-5, on 3212 W. Front St. (903-566-1010), no appointment needed, just come and hang out, and see what we are building. We use all recommendations from the veterans directly so we can put those into place.”

“Next weekend is ‘Kickstands Up,’ a motorcycle ride leaving Camp V at 10 a.m. It’s a way we will be out in the community and not only supporting Tyler, but the entire region,” Cichowicz added.

Koehler, Country Meat Market supervisor, was raving about the quality of the steaks being grilled. He has a right to be proud. On the Charlie Daniels Band website, the steaks are on the home page and talk about how proceeds go toward The Journey Home Project.

Charlie Daniels, before he passed away, supported the project, which supports veterans who not only need intense rehabilitation and physical therapy, but have to deal with the mental and psychological scars of war. He didn’t want veterans to have to deal with red tape or cuts to veteran services by the government.

On the Charlie Daniels website, they write, “About the Black Label Reserve herd, the Tyler Country Market team spent 10 years developing the Black Label Reserve specifications that ensure the most tender and flavorful beef that you can buy. It’s hormone-free, antibiotic-free, grass/grain-fed, natural raised, and full of flavor.

The Country Meat Market has been open since 1954 when it was founded by Bud Morriss. The tradition stayed on East Front Street thanks to his son, Steve Morriss.

“The Morriss family has always supported the military,” Koehler said. “Bud served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and he always wanted this to be a place veterans could come and feel like home.”

“This was a great event to bring people out and support Camp V,” Koehler continued. “The meat is better than anywhere I’ve had and it’s great to see a variety of how people are preparing it.”

Twitter @23johnanderson


twitter @23johnanderson


John is a two-time national columnist of the year and AP award-winner in Texas and New York for breaking news, videos and sports. He earned the Thomas J. Bulson Investigative Journalism award and has appeared on CNBC's American Greed, FOX and CNN.