Sometime early Saturday afternoon, as up to 2,000 family members and friends gather at St. Paul’s RiverCentre for a steak dinner, Serving Our Troops will simultaneously serve its 100,000th dinner to a Minnesota National Guard soldier stationed in Kuwait.
“They will literally be having dinner together half a world apart,” said Pat Harris, who has helped organize the volunteer effort each year since 2004.
More than 40 Twin Cities volunteers will serve steak dinners donated by several Twin Cities restaurants to about 4,500 troops at three sites at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. While the steaks will have a Minnesota connection — Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul is one of about 30 local sponsors — volunteers will be feeding more than Minnesotans. Harris said organizers decided long ago, when it first served meals at two sites in Kosovo, to be inclusive.
“We will be at three sites, including our main site where Minnesota troops are deployed,” he said. “But it’s our philosophy to serve everyone, whether they’re from Minnesota or not.”
The steak dinners were shipped earlier this week. A small advance team flew to Kuwait on Wednesday to start setting up, Harris said. The balance of the group’s 46 volunteers took off Thursday, he said.
Serving Our Troops was formed by community and business leaders 15 years ago while they were having steaks at Mancini’s, said Harris, who was on the St. Paul City Council at the time.
“We decided it wasn’t fair that here we were, enjoying a meal, when those serving our country overseas didn’t have that option,” he said.
In August 2004, Serving Our Troops served its first 2,500 meals at two bases in Kosovo. A live video link connected the troops with family members gathered back at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Saturday’s dinner, too, will connect troops in Kuwait with their families gathered in St. Paul. Local volunteers will begin serving meals in St. Paul around 10 a.m.
Since that first batch of dinners, Serving Our Troops has grilled and served steaks to soldiers and families in Iraq and Kuwait as well as in Fort Sill, Okla., Camp Shelby, Miss., Fort McCoy, Wis., and St. Paul and Rochester.
More than 600 members of the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Red Bull Infantry Division are now deployed throughout the Middle East. The soldiers are from more than 220 communities throughout Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and several other states. Their deployment is expected to end later this summer.