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Serving It Up for the Troops – City Style!

By Pat Harris
April 16, 2012

Thick steaks sizzling on a charcoal grill. People milling about with smiles on their faces. All of this sounds like a typical backyard barbecue. But it was far from typical, as it was in a Kuwait desert and the sizzling steaks were accompanied by the sounds of America’s fighting forces. And Rochester (MN) Mayor Ardell Brede was squarely at the helm of the grill for this unique project to support our troops and their families.

This past February, Brede joined forces with the Minnesota-based Serving Our Troops organization to send a unique message of support to our troops and their families in the form of a 12-ounce steak from home. Brede and nearly 50 volunteers traveled over 7,000 miles to Kuwait and served up 12,000 steaks to 2,700 Minnesota National Guard soldiers of the 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division, along with thousands of soldiers from other states. Back in Saint Paul, over 4,000 family members also enjoyed steaks, entertainment, and a host of fun activities for families.

The entire event – both at home and overseas – was linked via live international video to create an all important “dinner with the family.”

And that is the motto of Serving Our Troops: “It’s a simple thing, dinner with the family.” Saint Paul to Kuwait, the ninth project from Serving Our Troops, was just that – a shared meal with the family and a nonpolitical message of support to our soldiers serving in harm’s way.

Founded in 2004, Serving Our Troops is an all-volunteer effort organized by local citizens and businesses with a threefold mission: serve a fabulous meal to soldiers and families, send a message of support, and promote awareness of the Minnesota National Guard’s deployments. With over 75,000 steaks served, the message has been clear.

This Minnesota deployment represents citizen soldiers from over 500 Minnesota communities. Colonel Eric Kerska, the Commander of the Minnesota unit in Kuwait, is currently a Battalion Chief for Rochester’s Fire Department. Kerska personally invited Brede to join the Serving Our Troops contingent.

Many other Minnesota mayors also served up their support. While Brede was grilling in Kuwait, over 30 mayors joined Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman on stage in Saint Paul to offer a live greeting to families at home and soldiers overseas.

Brede is no stranger to supporting our nation’s soldiers. He participated in the 2008 Serving Our Troops project, Rochester to Kosovo, he has visited our soldiers overseas, and he has been a champion of showing how cities honor our heroes, including efforts for Rochester’s Veteran’s Memorial and the Honor Flights for World War II veterans.

But the Serving Our Troops project was the first time he was able to flip steaks for the soldiers. “Serving Our Troops represents the support of many communities. The steak itself, cooked to order of course, is a 12-ounce message to our soldiers that was heard loud and clear. It was an honor to be a part of it,” said Brede.

For more information on Serving Our Troops, visit our website at It’s a simple thing, dinner with the family.

Pat Harris is a former Saint Paul City Council Member, currently with RBC Global Asset Management. Harris is one of the founders of Serving Our Troops, along with John Marshall from Xcel Energy and a host of local businesses and citizens.