Fort Riley, Kansas



American Legion hosts annual ‘Big Red One’ Turkey Run

By Suet Lee-Growney | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | November 24, 2017

     The atmosphere at the Warrior Transition Battalion clamshell was warm with the air of giving and thanks dur­ing the 10th annual American Legion “Big Red One” Turkey Run Nov. 18.

     About 700 frozen turkeys, along with 15 different fix­ings to go with preparing a traditional Thanksgiving meal, were given to Soldiers and families who are mem­bers of the WTB, veterans who have served, Gold Star families and families of de­ployed service members. All interested participants had to do was show up, produce proof of their status and then wait in line with their ticket.

     There were two kinds of tickets, a white ticket for a small family and a blue ticket for a large family, where they would get two of everything. A volunteer would assist attend­ees with pushing their cart, fill­ing up grocery bags and then helping them load up their Thanksgiving meal ingredients into their vehicle.

     The event was organized by members of the American Legion Auxiliary, Sons of the American Legion and Legion Riders, all from the state of Kan­sas, in partnership with WTB. This is the 10th year the Legion­naires have hosted this event.

     Bill “Hippie” Ryan, chair­man of the BRO Turkey Run and member of the Ameri­can Legion, said the reason his organization continues to give back to the military com­munity and host this event is because he feels all who serve deserve to be celebrated, a treatment he felt he and people who served alongside him in the 1970s did not receive.

     “I’m a Vietnam vet,” Ryan said. “We made a statement years ago, they are not going to be treated the way we were treated when we got home, this is not going to happen again no matter what. Guys come home today with more fanfare than they can imagine. They are greeted by groups of people at the airport.”

    Ryan has been in charge of this event for the last two years and was part of the organizing committee in years before, tak­ing lead. Spearheaded by the Le­gion Riders, Ryan said the plan­ning starts months in advance where the riders go to each American Legion post in Kan­sas seeking volunteers, food and fund donations and support. All ingredients are donated with the exception of the turkeys, which are bought through the Fort Ri­ley Commissary through funds raised.

      “It’s very organized,” he said. “We go out statewide to all the American Legions and we see who wants to volunteer one of the food items we have here and there are 15 differ­ent food items and about 160 (American Legion) volunteers involved.”

      Jeff Reade, outreach branch manager at Army Community Service, said though there is no real running involved, the event is called a “run” because Legion Riders ride together to Fort Ri­ley to host these events. He also said it has come a long way since it first began years ago.

     “Many of the Legion Rid­ers come on their Harley Da­vidson motorcycles and for them it’s a bike run to come to Fort Riley to support this an­nual event,” he said. “This is a wonderful example of veterans supporting veterans. It started small, initially it was support­ing our wounded warriors, but over the years the turkey run is also involved with our Gold Star families, our families of the deployed and Soldiers who are downrange. Their families are able to come here and get their Thanksgiving meal at no cost courtesy of the veteran service organization.”

     Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin, 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley commanding general, stopped by the event and commended the effort and volunteers for their hard work, especially to the Vietnam veterans.

     “I’ve always heard about this, but I’ve never seen it with my own eyes — this is impressive,” Martin said during his speech. “It warms my heart, people gathered together to do what they do best, that they can take care of Soldiers and families … To the Vietnam veterans out there, you may have heard this message from me, but I say it every time I get an opportunity to say it: You’ve got a whole bunch of reasons to be bitter, to be unsupportive and you’re not. And you did not get the reception that you deserved when you came home. But I want you to know, my generation, my co-host knows that the support we give to this country is standing on the shoulders of Vietnam veterans because everywhere I go, they are always out and they are always in support.”

      Each year after the BRO Turkey Run, Ryan said they have a system in place for the surplus of Thanksgiving meal ingredients.

      “There is always food leftover — that’s the way we do it; we call the post chaplains, all of them, and they come down and divvy up what’s left and hand it out to the people they feel need it,” he said. “But all this food stays on (Fort Riley).”

     Command Sgt. Maj. William McVay, WTB senior noncommissioned officer, said an event like this is a crucial connection for Soldiers in his battalion who are transitioning out of the Army to connect with people who are veterans.

     “This is one of the most fan­tastic events we have,” McVay said. “It’s really straightforward, it’s really simple, but it’s a true gesture of the American Legion in particular, and veteran service organizations, to maintain that link with our Soldiers. Main­taining this relationship is criti­cal especially for the wounded guys transitioning out. As they go out, they are establishing contacts in the veterans’ ser­vices community, so they know people. That way when they get out they don’t say, ‘What do I do now?’ and they know people who have gone through what they’re going through, so that connection can help them as they enter into civilian life.”

      Among the WTB Soldiers at the event was Staff Sgt. Chad Schnell. He carried his son Lincoln, 3, on his shoulders as he got help from Keith Meyer- Hoff, a member of the Sons of American Legion, with filling and pushing his cart. Schnell was there to pick up Thanksgiv­ing meal fixings not for himself, but for five Soldiers who either work with him or are in his care team.

     “None of this is for me,” he said. “I have family in Ne­braska I’m having Thanksgiv­ing with. This is all going to Soldiers of mine who can’t get down here to get it them­selves. I have five individuals that I’m delivering food for.”

      Schnell echoed what McVay said about veterans helping other veterans. He said the event is a way of giving back to service members.

      “I think it’s a good thing to help Soldiers out,” he said. “The military, the people who have been in, past and pres­ent, always come together to help each other out … This is us giving back to the Soldiers who have paid a price for our country and it’s the right thing to do. We are taking care of the people what others are unwilling to do.”