The folks lining both sides of Main Street last sunny Monday were privileged to witness a spectacle not often seen in these bucolic parts; an honest-to-gosh, horn-blasting, flag-flying, dignitary-waving, all-American motorcade.
At precisely straight-up noon, screaming sirens drew all eyes north, where a smart quartet of Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office motorcycle patrolmen appeared to escort a gleaming convoy of freshly scrubbed Evergreen Fire/Rescue trucks and a snowy-white stretch limousine courtesy of Evergreen Limo. Everything in sight that could blink, bleat or blast was turned all the way up, and the small but conspicuous fleet sailed slowly through town in glorious, clamorous majesty while those on the sidewalks signaled their unqualified approval with endless shouts, energetic applause and full-body waves.
Honestly, can anyone explain why we don’t throw one of these little promenades every week? On the other hand, it’s not every week that an Army platoon drops by for holiday supper on the way to Iraq.
The honored VIPs were 22 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division Military Police out of Fort Carson. The unit has been adopted by the 50-plus employees of HRPLUS, an Evergreen human resources firm. Monday was a chance to enjoy a little family time before the warriors head into harm’s way in about two weeks.
Most of the clean-limbed young men and women packed into the limo, getting a first, comfortable look at their adoptive home town through smoked glass. The rest perched here and there around the fire trucks, and for people who’ve spent time dodging stampeding tanks in the field, they seemed charmingly delighted by the big red engines.
The general orchestrating Monday’s festive maneuvers was Randy Leonard, a tireless armed-forces supporter and founder of PlatoonAdoptions.com.
“I was born into the military, and my dad was a 30-year man,” said Leonard, who assembled the motorcade at Wal-Mart and sped ahead to meet it downtown. “A lot of people and businesses in the Evergreen/Conifer area sponsor troops. It’s important, and it shows what kind of people we have living here. Wal-Mart’s on their fifth platoon.”
Evergreen Legionnaire Tricia Miller and Rocky Mountain Republican Women vice president Lora Lee Alemanni took up station in front of Evergreen National Bank. Miller’s daughter, Heather, serves in the Navy. Alemanni’s brother, Jesse, serves on the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea. Both Miller and Alemanni have a history of adopting deployed soldiers, and neither was about to miss a chance to cheer Americans in uniform.
“We wanted to show them we appreciate what they’re doing,” said Miller, holding a handful of Old Glories and wearing her American Legion garrison cap. “We’re just supporting our troops.”
The Harbridges — Bill, CD, and their daughter, Laurel — posted themselves across from Evergreen Crafters. Bill waved an extra big flag. As a Daughter of the American Revolution, CD makes it her business to make American soldiers’ welfare her business. Laurel, who’d flown in from Stanford University the night before, just wanted to offer her thanks to people who deserve some.
“We want to thank them for what they’re doing,” said Laurel, shading her eyes against a perfect autumn sun. “And show them we’re behind them.”
While their Main Street cruise was surely gratifying, the MPs were doubtless looking forward to the mission’s objective — the HRPLUS office at Evergreen Parkway and Lewis Ridge Road and heaping plates of Thanksgiving victuals. Of course, nobody understands ceremony better than a soldier, so they probably weren’t surprised to find themselves standing at attention in the parking lot in front of EFR’s Tower No. 2 and staring into a sea of cameras while various local worthies recited heartfelt words of thanks and admiration. Truth be told, 23-year-old private Juliana Hartzell seemed a little flummoxed by all the attention.
“I joined the Army eight months ago, and I just got transferred to this unit,” she said, eyeing the television cameras uncertainly.
Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., Hartzell’s fatigues were neatly pressed, her tan desert boots pristine, her black beret cocked just so. If she was nervous about seeing the Middle East less than a year into her hitch, she didn’t show it. Being adopted by HRPLUS, on the other hand, obviously pleased her.
“It means a lot to me that they’re doing this,” she said. “I don’t really care what they send us. It’s just nice to know they’re thinking about us.”
HRPLUS employee Melissa Sabus brought her 9-year-old daughter, Erin, to see the show, and the little girl seemed fascinated by the proceedings. When the soldiers snapped to attention, so did Erin. Alas, Erin’s never been through basic training, and her crisp pose quickly crumbled into a spontaneous and most unmilitary jig.
“I think they look cool,” she said, wide-eyed and breathless. “I made seven cards, altogether. They say ‘Thank you,’ ‘Fight for freedom’ and ‘Shine bright.’ ”
Though clearly proud of her daughter’s contributions, Melissa showed more poise.
“We’ll send non-perishable snacks, baby wipes, books and magazines and holiday packages,” she said. “I think that, regardless of your political views, this is an important thing to do.”
It was nearly 1 o’clock before the formal observances were accomplished and the platoon trooped upstairs for mess. Desks and office machines had been cleared away from the second-floor work area and long, blue-draped tables lined up in their stead. Eagerly but in good order, the soldiers pressed through the chow line, loading real plates with real turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and all the other good things that make Thanksgiving dinner the best meal of the year.
Sgt. John Blessick, 29, held back until all of his people had a clean shot at the buffet. He is tall, direct, confident — an NCO right out of the manual. This will be his second tour in Iraq, so he knows very well the importance of support from the home front.
“It makes us feel good that civilians care about what we’re doing,” said Blessick, smiling. “Everything you do is appreciated, but what’s most important to us is knowing you haven’t forgotten we’re over there.”
To learn more about adopting a platoon, contact Randy Leonard at 720-301-1385 or visit www.platoonadoptions.com.