FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Pit barbecue smoke wafted through the air carrying the aroma of spare ribs, chicken and pork throughout the Fort Campbell Warrior Transition Battalion campus, Sept. 16, 2015.
Several world class barbecue champions from Illinois, Ohio and Tennessee shared their cooking talents -- and lunch -- with WTB Soldiers.
The crew of Warrior Barbecuers prepared an outdoor picnic feast for up to 150 wounded warriors and Family members.
"It's a group we assembled about six years ago. Our purpose is just to say a little thank you to let them know we respect and appreciate what they do and what they've been through," said Hap Zook, spokesman for the group. "They have no idea how much we appreciate being among them."
This is the sixth time the group has visited the Fort Campbell area, and the third time they have cooked for Soldiers on location on post.
"We enjoy being on base to mingle with the Soldiers and their Families," said Pat Burke, Warrior Barbecuer and a barbecue hall of famer. "We do this quite a bit for the wounded warriors all over the country."
Joining Zook and Burke at the pits was Merrill Fuller, Randy Brown, Terry Griffith, Rick Dalton, Rob Marion and Tom Welten -- many of whom are Army or National Guard veterans. Zook's wife, Becky, helped organize and prepare the side dishes.
The midday meal served as the kick off for the third annual Bluegrass Rendezvous Bike Ride. Wounded, injured and ill Soldiers from Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, Ky., are participating in the therapeutic and challenging ride between the two military installations within the Bluegrass State. The nearly 170-mile ride started this morning at Fort Knox and ends Friday afternoon at Fort Campbell.
"It's really a great honor to have an organization like this come help us kick off our third annual Bluegrass Rendezvous event - a collaborative cycling event with Fort Knox," said Capt. Philip Duff, acting WTB executive officer. "Being in the Kentucky-Tennessee area, coming and enjoying some great barbecue can you really ask for more? Come here, eat a great meal provided to us from some great Americans. There's nothing better than that."
The Warrior Barbecuers brought an old hickory barbecue pit and an old fashioned "stick burner" pit to cook the meat. Barbecuing of more than 100 pounds of pork butts started the evening of Sept. 15. The process took about 20 hours.
Early morning on Sept. 16, the crew added a couple dozen racks of spare ribs and about 100 pieces of chicken to the rotisserie-style pits.
"The thing you need to accomplish in cooking world-class barbecue is time and temperature and you must control them," said Zook, who also serves as a barbecue competition judge. "No hog, chicken or steer is built the same, so there's constantly a variation in meat. The time and temperature you have to adjust based on what you are cooking. That's what these champions have accomplished."
Stacy Auguste, education services specialist at the Army Community Service Soldier and Family Assistance Center, said the Warrior Barbecuers contacted her to donate their time and a meal to the wounded warriors.
"They just want to be among the heroes," she said.
With her office only a few yards away from the barbecue pits, Auguste said the food "smells delicious."
"I've had a taste or two and it's delicious," she said.
Around 11:30 a.m., a table spread of ribs, pulled pork and chicken -- along with homemade baked beans and slaw -- awaited the wounded warriors.
Private 1st Class Dillon Mays, Company B, WTB, said he smelled the barbecue inside the barracks and decided to check out the feast.
"It's a good experience," he said. "It's a good time to have fellowship with everybody -- get to know everybody -- and eat some good food. That's always a plus. The chicken is awesome."
CW2 Robert L. Landers, also in Company B, WTB, said his meal was "delicious."
"These guys have been at it for a long time. They've done a phenomenal job. We love their support," he said. "The food is delicious. It's amazing."
With rave reviews of the barbecue feast, the Warrior Barbecuers remained humble and focused on their mission.
"We feel there isn't anything we can do that is enough. We just give a small contribution for what they have given and accomplished in their lives," Zook said. "The opportunity to eat with and talk with them and maybe hear some of their stories, it means so much to us.
"I always say it's an honor to be among them."