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Veterans, chaplains partner to provide meals for paratroopers

Fayetteville Observer - 11/17/2018

Nov. 17--Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Bill Bauer knows all too well the plight of a young enlisted soldier.

"We used to sell our plasma or work side jobs," he said, thinking back to harder days as a fresh soldier in the Army. "It was all we could do for money to do anything extra."

Bauer, now the executive director of the 82nd Airborne Division Association, remembers those tough times.

So, for the past three years, the 82nd Association has pulled donations from its members and local businesses to provide a little extra to paratroopers ahead of the holidays.

On Wednesday, Bauer and 82nd Airborne Division unit ministry teams distributed 500 meals to lower enlisted soldiers.

Outside the All American Chapel, soldiers or their families pulled up to one of two tents, where volunteers were waiting to hand over a bag with a frozen chicken, stuffing, vegetables, bread and dessert.

Lt. Col. Tim Wilson, the deputy division chaplain, said the donations were an opportunity to help soldiers who might need an extra boost this holiday.

It also was an opportunity for chaplains to spend time with those soldiers.

"That's what this is about," he said. "They're making that connection."

Unit chaplains and commanders identified soldiers for the meals.

Bauer said the Army pays young soldiers "just enough to get by."

"They don't have a lot of disposable cash," he said.

Some have large families. Others are all alone.

Regardless, the meals provide an opportunity for the soldiers to have a special meal amid the holiday break, Bauer said.

"Our guys remember what it was like when they were coming up the ranks," he said. "Fortunately, soldiers don't stay privates long."

Maj. Wallace Jackson, the chaplain for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, said meal donations are one of several programs to help soldiers during the holidays.

"We are overwhelmed with resources," he said.

Jackson said Thanksgiving has a special place within the Army, especially when so many soldiers have spent the holidays deployed in recent years.

"It's a very important time," he said.

This year, soldiers will gather together on and off post. Leaders will invite their soldiers to their homes, or teammates will gather for their own Thanksgiving feast.

Bauer said he hopes the donated meals allow every soldier who wants such a feast to be able to partake.

Now in its third year of providing Thanksgiving meals, Bauer said the association has found more partners, but hopes to continue to grow the program.

This year, Perdue, McCall Farms and USAA contributed to the meals, along with donations from 82nd Airborne Division Association members.

Those donations will allow the association to hand out another 500 meals ahead of the Christmas holidays, Bauer said.

And he is hoping that additional support will allow the organization to do more for soldiers and their families.

Anyone interested in helping those efforts is asked to call 910-223-1182 or email execsec@82ndairborneassociation.org.

Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at dbrooks@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3567.

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(c)2018 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com

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