Papa John’s Pizza feeds Soldiers headed to Iraq
Sgt. 1st Class Lori A. KuczmanskI
5th Armored Bde., First Army Div. West
McGREGOR RANGE, N.M. – Being away for training during any holiday can be lonely. Thanks to the generosity of Papa John’s Pizza, 500 pizzas were donated to Guardsmen of Wisconsin’s 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team to help them celebrate the Easter weekend while away from their families.
Michelle Bustillos, marketing director for Papa John’s Pizza in El Paso, Las Cruces and Alamogordo, said her organization wanted to feed the Soldiers while they conduct pre-deployment training at McGregor Range. She said it was also a way to say thank you and show their support for the troops.
Bustillos said she wanted to make the Guardsmen’s training experience in El Paso one they will not forget as they prepare for deployment. The post-mobilization training is the last component required prior to a deployment.
“We wanted to make their visit in El Paso something that they want to remember and make them feel they were treated well while here for their training,” said Bustillos.
“Its really about [the Soldiers] today; it’s not about us,” said Wayne Ingram, director of operations for Papa John’s Pizza.
Ingram said he is happy to serve the Soldiers and give them something different to eat for dinner than the traditional “chow hall” food.
Ingram coordinated with two managers of different stores to host the pizza night, which required having additional workers and ordering extra food for the event.
Store manager Sassy Patterson’s El Paso restaurant, located on Fairbanks and Rushing, had its usual Saturday business in conjunction with the pizza event.
“We have two ovens going at the same time, and we have workers that are specifically making pizza for this event,” said Patterson.
Patterson said her workers were honored their store was chosen to participate in the pizza event for the “Red Arrow” Guardsmen.
“We had workers arguing over which workers would come out here and which workers would be in charge of making the pizzas. They have pride in the pizzas they are making for this event,” said Patterson.
“They serve us every day, fight for our freedom, and we are honored to give back to the Soldiers,” said Patterson.
Trading in their iPods for a live musical performance by Whiskey Dust was what many Guardsmen did during the night. Rock ‘n roll echoed through the building as Soldiers “rocked out” for the night.
Pfc. Devonte Moericke, Headquar-ters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, volunteered for deployment. He said he needed to step up to the plate and do his part, and by volunteering, he is serving and fulfilling this goal.
Smiling and motivated, Moericke said he is happy to be a part of this mission.
“I just got out from watching the band, and it makes me feel pretty good that people outside of the Army support us and they volunteered their services for the troops.”said Devonte. “It holds a good place in my heart that they came down to see the troops.”
“I’m very happy,” Moericke added after listening to the band.
Moericke said his days have been full due to the intense training, and having a break like this is a nice change. Moericke credited the band members for leading full-time jobs in conjunction with their commitment to their band and playing for the troops.
“This is a nice, clean break for everyone,” said Moericke, “to have some fun and to get away from the daily suburban grind.”
Jamming out on the bass guitar and singing vocals was former Sgt. Tim McKellar. McKellar joined the Army in 1973 and trained for deployment to Vietnam. After he completed advanced individual training, Soldiers weren’t being sent to Vietnam anymore, so McKellar served in Germany for four years, then trained as a supply sergeant in 1979 and eventually got stationed at White Sands Missile Range until his service obligation was up in 1982.
McKellar said his prior service commitment has a lot to do with his support for the troops and is one of the reasons he enjoys playing for the Soldiers.
“I know that when I was in [the Army], the commitment you have to your duties takes a lot,” said McKellar. “It’s really good when people come out and support you and do something that we don’t expect anything in return.We just want them to feel a little bit better about that particular day.”
Soldiers showed their appreciation to Whiskey Dust by shaking their hands after the performance. One Soldier gave McKellar his combat infantry badge as a sign of thanks. McKellar said he was deeply touched by the Soldier’s gesture.
“That was just fantastic, just fantastic. There’s not much more I can say,” said McKellar after receiving the Soldier’s CIB. “It was great; we always enjoy playing for the troops. It’s so little that we can actually do for them compared to what they are facing. We do the best we can and I know they enjoy it.”
Col. Frank Sherman, commander of 5th Armored Brigade, presented excellence coins to Ingram, Bustillo and Patterson in appreciation.
“They’ve been doing excellent training and have been eating Army food for two months,” said Sherman. “I know they will really appreciate pizzas from Papa John’s. I can’t thank you enough for bringing them out and contributing as they prepare for their combat operations in Iraq. I am sure they will remember the kindness and the gesture you’ve shown.”
Excellence coins were also awarded to the members of Whiskey Dust in appreciation for their performance.
“I know the Soldiers loved to get away from the experience of McGregor for a few hours,” said Sherman. “Thank you for coming out here for the Soldiers.”