FORT RILEY — For all the military does to protect the country, it’s only fair that sometimes a favor is returned.
So Saturday morning, several hundred military families waded through rows of turkeys, green beans, cranberry sauce, potatoes and cookie dough as they collected food for their Thanksgiving meals.
Spc. Brad Pittenger was there at Fort Riley to pick up a Thanksgiving meal at the sixth Big Red One Turkey Run.
“I was pretty surprised,” Pittenger said. “Usually you get a voucher to go to the commissary.”
The American Legion offers the meals every year for members of the Warrior Transition Battalion — a group comprised of wounded soldiers who are in the process of transitioning back to active service.
Since it began, the event has expanded to include Medical Evaluation Board soldiers as well.
The Turkey Run provided food to 32 families its first year and now has grown to a staggering 750 families.
Don Behrens, department chairman of the American Legion Riders, said it is a way for the Legion to show its appreciation to the soldiers.
“We’re showing how thankful we are that they’re out there protecting us,” he said.
Especially for soldiers who recovering from injuries, Behrens said, the Legion wants to make sure the troops know someone cares.
“We’re a step in the healing process,” he said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jess Patteson of the Warrior Transition Battalion said the soldiers appreciate the support. For wounded soldiers who might be at Fort Riley without their families, he said, the support is especially important.
“With that show of support, you should have no reason to feel alone,” Patteson said.
As the soldiers recover, Patteson said the outpouring of support brightens a bad day.
“We’re still soldiers,” he said. “We still have to drive on, and the support can help us do that.”
Behrens said the Legion is also motivated to help because current soldiers will one day be taking over for them, and caring for veterans and soldiers in the future.
“If they have good feelings (about the Turkey Run and other support), they’ll continue this on,” he said.
Helping out during the holidays is just part of being a member of the wider veteran and military community, Behrens said.
“Veterans take care of veterans,” he said. “We’re all brothers and sisters.”