FORT HOOD, Texas —The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, in partnership with Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, joined forces here, Sept. 2, to give back to this installation in a big way. Dubbed Operation Pizza Taco, the event ended with a massive, free concert featuring the Eli Young Band and headlined by Lee Brice.
The event was long in planning, according to Exchange leaders.
“It takes a good year, and a little bit of luck, to pull stuff like this off, the stars got to align,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Osby, the AAFES senior enlisted advisor.
Osby, a Louisiana native, who works on an international level with AAFES with stores as far afield as Korea and Germany, said that it was an honor to be on the ground to supervise the event.
“The exchange is always trying to bring stuff to the community,” said Osby. “We try to be a quality of life multiplier, and there’s so much we can do for the local military community. I’m proud to be the active duty representative of that.”
The two musical groups toured Fort Hood after putting on a live concert for Fox & Friends in the morning. Among other events, the groups were treated to Fort Hood’s Warrior Skills Training Center, where they experienced hands-on training in the installation’s state-of-the-art digital weapons instruction system.
Following their visit to the WSTC, the musicians met their fans, over a thousand of them, at the Clear Creek Exchange, where they signed autographs and took pictures with the eager onlookers.
“It’s pretty awesome that Soldiers get this opportunity to come and see these people. Any other time, you’d have to pay,” said Spc. Justin Hammond, a Patriot launching system enhanced operator with the 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.
The line stretched the length of the indoor mall, and trailed outside for a considerable distance.
“You have to get to these things early, if you don’t you’ll be in line even longer,” said Cat Wood, who along with her friend, Tosha Garnatz, were the first in line for the autograph signing.
Wood, a proud Army spouse currently on her seventh permanent change of station, has been a long time fan of Brice.
“He’s so great,” Wood said. “This is great for the community, it helps take your mind off things. There’s always so much going on in the world to keep you distracted.”
“We’ll be out at the concert at 3:30! I already have the car packed.”
Later that evening, the Fort Hood Stadium gate opened at 5 p.m. A variety of local vendors joined Pizza Hut and Taco Bell as well as local entertainers, artists and several bouncy castles provided for the younger community members in attendance.
Before the concert, the musicians took the opportunity to meet with fans and members of the community over pizza backstage.
“The soldiers have earned this,” said Col. Chad Foster, commander U.S. Army Garrison - Fort Hood, after the meet and greet. “They carry a heavy load for this country and we always expect them to deliver.”
“It’s great having so many great people to carry this load,” Foster said. “This was easy to pull off, not because there wasn’t a lot of work to get done, but because we have so many great people to shoulder stuff like this.”
The musicians echoed Foster’s sentiments as they prepared to start the show.
“We’ve been planning this show for a long time, so we’re glad to finally be here,” said John Jones, the bassist for the Eli Young Band. “I’m really looking forward to the performance tonight and giving back a little to the Fort Hood community for all that you do.”
“You guys make us proud,” said Jones. “Keep on doing what you do and thank you for keeping us safe.”
The concert lasted three and a half hours. The band performed over a dozen sets and the audience remained enthusiastic, even calling for an encore. After the encore, the headliner, Lee Brice, thanked the Fort Hood community for their hospitality.
“I got to be out here with the people we talk about all year long, this was amazing,” Brice said. “I don’t think they even know how grateful we all are.”
“Thank you Fort Hood, for letting us be a part of your lives,” Brice added. “Know that we’re always thinking about you, and praying for you and we appreciate you. (I'm) just over the moon.”
Members of the community were equally enthusiastic and grateful as they left the concert.
“I wasn’t expecting a full concert, but they really did it out there, so that was really amazing,” said Sgt. Dylan Bailey, a mass communications specialist with III Corps.
“Events like this are good because they bring people to a military installation and show them that we’re people,” Bailey said. “We’ve got things we enjoy too. We like having fun outside of work and spending time together.”