PORT ARTHUR, Texas -- 2020 has been a very difficult year for everyone. With the COVID-19 pandemic infecting hundreds of thousands and the onslaught of natural disasters ranging from wildfires to back to back hurricanes, everyone has had their share of strife.
No one knows this more than Diane Guidry, who owns “Edith’s Place” with her husband Tommy, in downtown Port Arthur. Named after Tommy’s late mother who taught him everything about cooking, the restaurant offering home-style southern food has been thriving since opening in 2017, thanks to the hustle and bustle of the community and its port.
But disaster struck in 2020. Amidst the onslaught of hurricanes and COVID-19 sweeping Texas, financial hardships forced the Guidry’s to make the tough decision of closing Edith’s doors at the end of the year.
Then she received a phone call. Anthony Theriot, the Director of Trade Development for the Port of Port Arthur called her with a request: to cater to approximately 3,000 U.S. Army Soldiers that were coming into town for training.
“When I received the call from Mr. Theriot, I literally began to cry because that call was a true blessing,” Mrs. Guidry said.
“We are now able to keep our staff working and keep the doors of the restaurant open.”
Officially contracted by the U.S. Army, the Guidry’s and their staff have been feeding the soldiers of 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) (7th TB (X)) as they conduct their Sealift Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise (SEDRE), moving the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division’s (2/25) equipment from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to the ports of Port Arthur and Beaumont, Texas in order for 2/25 to continue onward to the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, La.
Edith’s Place were not the only ones to benefit from the U.S. Army rolling into town. Businesses ranging from the Port Arthur Civic Center, other food vendors, commercial real estate agencies, sanitation companies, rental car companies and even the water department in the area were all contracted by the U.S. Army to provide their services. The entire town of Port Arthur accommodated all the Soldiers’ needs from food to housing.
Anthony Theriot, the Director of Trade Development for the Port of Port Arthur, saw the opportunity to revive the town he loved so much. He suggested for the Army to contract local businesses to ease the burden off the Soldiers.
“Some people moved away from Port Arthur after the Hurricanes so with the military in town it brings life back to the city,” he said.
“The people of Port Arthur love it, they think it's fascinating to see all the military big toys. With all the military folks in town, it also brings revenue dollars into the city. Port Arthur people fully support the military.”
The warm buildings, hot showers and delicious southern comfort food helps build the morale of the Soldiers working day and night, rain or shine, during the exercise.
U.S. Army Sgt. Simon Sanchez, a Cargo Specialist (88H) for 7th TB (X), says that the Soldiers are in good spirits, eager to work but even more eager for chow. Ms. Guidry and her staff even join in on Sunday services with the unit chaplain and the Soldiers.
“I love interacting with the local community, and they love us,” Sanchez said.
“We’ve grown into a big family the past few months.”
When one thinks of military exercises, they only visualize the different branches working together. U.S. Army Col. Timothy Zetterwall, Commander of 7th TB (X), explains that for such an exercise to come together, the local community places a significant role as well.
“It takes great partners like Port Arthur and Port Beaumont and the local community, ” he said.
“It allows us to practice doing what we need to do in contingency operations, so we thank you.”
The Army rolls into different places around the globe with the intent to rescue and make a difference: fighting enemy combatants, providing civil defense and natural disaster relief, all usually physical feats of heroism.
Saving a town and its residence from financial hardship is just as heroic, especially in the eyes of locals, like Diane Guidry.
“My husband and I and my staff are truly grateful for the awesome opportunity to serve each and every soldier that is here,” she said.
“We thank God for each one of you. I pray we have an opportunity to serve you all again. From our hearts to yours, thank you so much!”