A giant gesture of Minnesota Nice stretched across two continents Saturday, bringing soldiers and their families together.
The Minnesota National Guard 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division “Red Bull” troops at five bases across Kuwait were treated to a first-class steak dinner, with a simultaneous dinner for their families at the St. Paul RiverCentre.
The event sent 13,000 steaks to Kuwait, thanks to the Serving Our Troops organization, an all-volunteer effort based
The dinner was linked live through video feed and Skype, and the estimated 3,000 military families at the dinner had a chance to see their loved ones overseas.
Families say it helped ease heartache. Crystal Pici and Samantha Robbins were among thousands able to Skype with their husbands. Their husbands serve together at a Kuwait Naval Base. Both wives are each at home with a new baby, and say they rely on Skype on the difficult days.
“All of the little milestones, everything she’s gone through, he gets to be there through Skype,” said Robbins, whose husband was in Kuwait when she gave birth to her daughter. “We got to Skype her birth in the OR (operating room).”
Pici says her husband missed his daughter Sophia’s first birthday, but at the dinner, Sophia had the chance to Skype with her dad — something she looks forward to.
“She loves to Skype with him, she gets really energetic, she dances,” Pici said.
Soldiers spoke on a live feed as well. More than 20 Minnesota mayors were also at the event, along with top National Guard officials and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Organizers say the concept is simple – an intercontinental, family steak dinner.
“Minnesota is the only state in the country that does anything like this, and we think that’s really neat,” said volunteer Mike Zipko with Serving Our Troops. “It started with some friends sitting around one night, maybe having a few Grain Belt beers, thinking about what could we do with the wars going on in Iraq, what can we do to say hey, ‘We are thinking about you, we care about you.’ And it also helps you remember, this is what they are doing, some of the people we served steak dinners to have not come home.”
Around 50 Minnesota volunteers traveled to military bases in Kuwait to serve the troops dinner.
The 2,700 men and women in the Red Bulls make up the largest deployment of the Minnesota National Guard since World War II.
They have been have been stationed in Kuwait since July 2011, they will be there for about a year.
Serving Our Troops has been organizing special events locally and internationally for Minnesota National Guard soldiers and their families since 2004.
Learn more at the organization at its website.