Rodeo enthusiast
Spc. Derek South, a cavalry scout with 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, looks on in delight March 10 during calf roping, the first event of the 2010 Houston Livestock and Rodeo's one-day Salute to The Troops event, just before finding his seat. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Christopher M. Gaylord)

HOUSTON, Texas (March 10, 2010)--Most troops like a good rodeo show, some have never been, and for some, the oversized cowboy hats, jumbo belt buckles and irate kicking bulls are a little much. And then there's Spc. Derek South, a Soldier whose passion for rodeo is rarely matched.

A lot of people know what it's like to watch a cowboy get flung carelessly from a furious bull only seconds after leaving the chutes atop its back, but South knows what it's like to actually hang on for dear life; he knows how slowly seconds can pass; he knows what it's like to feel that cold still air over an arena floor, because he's actually been in the rodeo.

It's not surprising, then, that he was thrilled to attend the 2010 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo March 10 during the organization's third-ever military-focused event, dubbed Salute to The Troops, along with 1,500 other Soldiers from Fort Hood.

"The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is always a good one to go to, because the level of competition going on there is always outstanding," said South, a cavalry scout with 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, who entered the rodeo scene as a Future Farmers of America member during high school in Newland, N.C., and had been to the Houston rodeo twice before.

In total, more than 2,500 troops enjoyed a free lunch, a concert by famed country music band Rascal Flatts and the rivalry between competitors ranked among the top 50 in the U.S. for each separate rodeo show event, to include steer wrestling; calf roping; team steer roping; bareback riding; barrel racing; a calf scramble with more than 25 young Texas FFA members; and of course, bull riding.

More than 23,000 volunteers worked to make the event possible, and of those, 700 -many who are military veterans or currently serve - donated money to help fund each troop's day-trip to the rodeo.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, originally founded in 1932 to promote the livestock and cattle industries of the Gulf Coast region, is currently the largest show of its kind in the entire country and has the most livestock exhibits.

Jim Bloodworth, a former president and chief executive officer of the organization, explained that the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is also widely known throughout the state of Texas for something other than rodeo and livestock: putting teenagers through college.

"Since we awarded our first high school scholarship in 1957, more than 140,000,000 dollars in scholarships has been awarded to high school seniors attending Texas universities and colleges," Bloodworth said, adding that years ago the show's focus had quickly changed to benefiting youth and supporting education.

The chance to offer a different kind of support, one to the nation's military men and women, is just one of the many things that make Bloodworth proud to be associated with the organization.

"It's just a small way of giving back to the troops for the many sacrifices they've made, not only for them but for the families they leave behind," Bloodworth said. "They give us the freedom to have a livestock show and rodeo."

The event was something of a novel experience for some Fort Hood Soldiers, but for 21-year-old South, who has competed for seven years in bull riding and in team steer roping with his younger brother - recently a high school national finalist in the team roping event and a competitor at the Georgia National Fairgrounds - the show was exactly what he had expected.

"I loved it; it was awesome," South said. "The livestock was great, and there was awesome competition between the riders."

Having put in his time on bulls and horses, South respects the athleticism and ability of rodeo contestants to a degree unlike most other troops present for the show, especially when it comes to team roping, his favorite event.

"The knowledge and skill level involved in team roping is extremely difficult to learn," South said.

The support from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, its thousands of volunteers and mass of fans was heartening for South, and even a little unexpected. As he strolled with fellow Soldiers of his regiment amid towering carnival rides, the blending scents of concession stand foods and regular everyday rodeo fans delighted to see the military uniform, people welcomed him with hugs, handshakes, high fives, salutes and the occasional "Hoo-ahh!" chant.

"It's a great feeling to have someone come up to you, and shake your hand and thank you for what you do, even though we volunteer to do it on a day-to-day basis," South said.

Referring to preparation for the regiment's upcoming deployment, South said he was glad to set aside operational training, even if just for a day, and immerse himself in a cherished sport he sees less of as a Soldier.

"It's good to get your mind off training for a day or two, and just come out and have a good time," he said.

Although South won't make it to Houston's rodeo next year, he plans to speak with his squadron commander about possibly returning to bull riding in Florence on occasion.

Page last updated Fri March 12th, 2010 at 16:08