On Saturday, Mike Lefever will leave his home north of Longmont around 6 a.m. to make the three hour drive to Fort Carson south of Colorado Springs.
It‘s the same drive he first made in December of 2009, when Lefever and a number of other volunteers cooked 500 ribeye steaks for returning soldiers at the army installation for the first trip of the Colorado branch of the All American Beef Battalion.
The national beef battalion was started in 2008 by Bill Broadie, a Vietnam veteran and rancher in Kansas. Broadie wanted to honor the troops of today, Lefever said. Most of the volunteers are people from the agriculture industry.
Lefever worked for the Longmont Fire Department for 36 years, retiring as a lieutenant four years ago, while also running a corn and hay farm. He‘s now president of the Colorado Corn Growers Association. While he hasn‘t served in the military, his son is in the Military Police Corps based out of Fort Carson and two of his nephews served in Afghanistan.
“That‘s why all this hits close to home,” he said. “I don‘t think you‘ll find anyone more proud of our military than myself.”
To date, the national program has served more than 400,000 steaks and the Colorado program has served more than 55,000 steaks to soldiers both deploying for duty and returning home. Volunteers have also helped emergency responders at disasters like Hurricane Harvey, where they served 60,000 burgers, Lefever said.
Last year, Colorado volunteers served 4,500 people at one time in an hour, Lefever said.
The beef battalion is staffed completely by volunteers and funded through donations. Lefever‘s organization, the corn growers association, has donated $160,000 alone to the cause.
“Even the CPA that does the books is a volunteer,” he said.
Lefever recruits local volunteers from the Longmont Public Safety Department, local churches and the Longmont Rotary Club. For larger “feeds,” as he calls them, about 20 volunteers will come. For smaller ones, he only needs about a dozen.
It‘s not hard to get volunteers. According to Lefever, “everybody that‘s ever volunteered for this thing — they‘re hooked.”
Volunteers from Ashland, Kansas, where the beef battalion is based, bring the steaks in a 24-foot reefer trailer with coolers. They then cook the steaks in three racks that rotate and can fit up to 1,350 at one time. The soldiers are also served casseroles, corn, rolls and dessert.
The volunteers also become listeners for the day and hear soldiers tell their stories. Lefever said a wounded warrior told him about how he got his injury. The soldier was shot in the face but was picked up by his corpsman, who got shot in the process of saving him and died. Still, the soldier told Lefever he wakes up, sees the sunlight and thanks God he‘s alive.
“You listen to their attitude, and I realize I don‘t have a problem in the world,” he said.
It‘s a 12-hour day for Colorado volunteers, but Lefever said it doesn‘t otherwise take much of his time to coordinate everything. The volunteers from Kansas drive out “on their own dime” and often get hotel rooms in Colorado for the weekend.
They do it because “these guys are giving us the freedom to do what we do best, which is raise food to feed America and the world,” Lefever said.