Beef Battalion welcomes home, thanks troops with a ribeye steak dinner.
By BECKY MALEWITZ
This weekend, in Spearfish S.D., a National Guard unit will return from their Afghanistan Deployment.
And family, friends, supporters and a ribeye steak courtesy of the All American Beef Battalion will be there to greet them.
Since its first feed on April 26, 2008, the All American Beef Battalion has served more than 160,000 troops deploying or returning from serving overseas. In 2012 alone, the organization is estimating it will have cooked steaks for 62,000 U.S. service men and women.
"Part of what is so nice is that you get to shake hands and you actually get to say 'thank you' face to face," said Jon Fort, Garden City resident and senior vice chairman of the orginization.
The Beef Battalion was formed in 2008 with a mission statement to, "Promote American Beef and to support the troops and their families fighting the war on terror." Its founder, Bill Broady, is a fourth generation cattleman from Ashland who served with the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam in 1967.
Fort, who was at the time a member of the Beef Empire Days board of directors, was recruited by the Beef Battalion before its first feed in 2008, and he and his family have been involved ever since.
"I've always had a tremendous respect for our service men and women, and I didn't like the way the service men and women were treated. I had lots of friends when I was in college that had been in the service and saw some bad stuff, and nobody ever said 'thank you,'" Fort said.
Through the years, the Beef Battalion has served a meal featuring an 18- to 20-ounce ribeye steak and all the sides free of cost to deploying or returning troops.
"The reaction is very, very positive. The young men and women are truly appreciative," Fort said. "Some of the stuff we have seen is heart-wrenching because you see little ones with their parents, one of their parents is deploying and you see wives that are pregnant and you know that while they're gone their son or daughter will be born, and so a lot of those pre-deployment are interesting and heart-wrenching to be honest, but they're very, very grateful."
The nonprofit organization, consisting only of volunteers, has traveled to 24 states and fed as many as 4,000 people at a time.
"It's 100 percent volunteer. Nobody gets paid, nobody draws a wage, everybody donates their time and all the money's donated," Fort said. "We are very, very fortunate and very blessed to have a great group of volunteers that are willing to dedicate time, take time from their jobs and their families and go do this."
"It's more fun than ought to be allowed," Tim Joyce of Garden City, a longtime volunteer, said.
Fort and Joyce worked together Friday morning to load food and supplies into the Beef Battalion trailer with the phrase "Feeding our Troops one Steak at a Time" stenciled on the back.
The duo, along with several other volunteers, will make the 11-hour trek to South Dakota and serve nearly 400 meals to returning troops and their families.
"This all boils down to 'thank you.' No strings attached, just 'thank you,'" Joyce said.
Anyone interested in more information about the All American Beef Battalion can visit its website, www.steaksfortroops.com.