By Spc. Jeffrey Ledesma, 1st Cavalry Division Public AffairsMarch 12, 2008
COOPERAS COVE, Texas - "I don't know anybody who doesn't like pizza," said Command Sgt. Maj. Philip Johndrow, the 1st Cavalry Division's top noncommissioned officer and a self-proclaimed pizza-lover.
Despite the lingering evidence of an early morning thunderstorm, the city's third Soldier appreciation day shined on as scheduled March 10.
The central-Texas community teamed up to put together a free pizza-making, country-music-listening, fun-having and family-friendly event for Fort Hood troopers at the local Domino's Pizza.
Inside the restaurant Soldiers were invited to experience the world of pizza making from folding the cardboard boxes to sliding their self-topped pizza into the rolling oven.
The concept of giving free pizzas to the men and women in uniform started when the local pizza franchise received a phone call asking if they could donate pizzas for Soldiers who just got back from a long deployment.
"We asked 'where, when and how many,'" said Chris Herd, the district manager who oversees seven stores in the central-Texas area.
To show their support, according to the general manger of the Copperas Cove pizza establishment Ingrid Kiefer, about 10,000 free pizzas and counting have been donated to Soldiers coming home.
But, Kiefer wanted to do more. So in May 2005 the city held their first troop appreciation event.
"We wanted to do something for (Soldiers) at our house," said Herd. "They could come into the store, learn how to fold boxes, see a little bit of our operation, make their own pizza, (and) get to put it in the oven.
"They're like little kids in there. They're loving it and it's great."
Herd added that the day allows troopers and their families to learn a little bit about our business and just have fun even. And although, he added, the Soldiers are in their work uniform hopefully this will be a little break - a time to just relax.
The two weeks of planning that went into the event was anything, but easy.
"It was hectic, but it was also fun and when you see a turn out like this and you see everyone smiling its worth it," Keifer said.
"(The gathering) was not only Copperas Cove showing appreciation for our Soldiers, but our Soldiers showing the appreciation to them because they take care of us and our families while we were deployed," said Johndrow, from Townsend, Mont. "They love us and we love them and this kind of brings it all together."
For some young troops the community's appreciation was well-received.
"Dominos actually supports our troops. They don't just slap a sign on a window (that says) 'support our troops,'" said Spc. Christopher Stull, a native of Phoenix, Ariz.
Stull, an intelligence analyst with the First Team's 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, said that proof of that support is that they have actual Soldiers, like himself, come out and open their doors to give them free pizza and entertainment.
A signal support signal specialist in the same unit, Spc. Mark Mitchell of Rochester, N.Y. agreed with his comrade and said seeing everyone and everything that went into this event he can't help, but feel appreciated.
"I always see signs, but these businesses actually took it a step further and showed their support through action," Mitchell said.
Another thing these "Ironhorse" troopers agreed on was the pizza.
"The pizza was very good. It's very nice to have all the toppings that we want," Stull said. "It's even better that it's free."
After smearing their pizzas with sauce made from vine-rip tomatoes and sprinkling them with 100 percent real cheese, Soldiers at the community affair could blanket their pizzas with a long list of toppings: pepperoni, Italian sausage, black olives, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, pineapple, beef and/or ham.
"We could get crazy with it. We could put as much as we want on it," Stull said with a smile.
While Soldiers ate their pizzas and enjoyed the music, Herd was taking care of business. Although he was frantically running around making sure everything was going smoothly, he added that he really wanted to be a part of this.
"I enjoy the freedoms that we are allotted here in the United States and that freedom is not free. It's paid by the Soldiers and the work they do and we wanted to honor and thank them and show our appreciation as a Domino's Pizza family to their families," said Herd.
"Everybody out here has volunteered their time to show their appreciation for Soldiers and how could you not love that'" asked Johndrow.
The president of the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau Marty Smith said her heart is still very much in the military and that the more the community can show all of its Soldiers and their families how much they appreciate them the better it is.
"You never show enough," said Smith, the wife of a retired colonel. "They do so much and we could never show enough."