MONARCH — It is a lot of work to prepare food for more than 30 hungry U.S. Marine Corps combat veterans - but for one Great Falls family on Memorial Day weekend, they wouldn't have it any other way.
“I don't know that there's a better way to spend Memorial Day weekend,” said stay-at-home mom Kim Smartt.
For the past two weekends, Kim and her husband, Edward Jones financial adviser Ryan Smartt and their family have been volunteering at Camp Rotary, cooking meals for combat veterans.
“It's pretty humbling. We have a pretty good time with it,” said Ryan. “We all get to hang out in the kitchen on early mornings and late nights and share plenty of stories around the fire afterward. For an organization like Warrior Reunion Foundation, it's kind of nice way to give back, especially around Memorial Day.”
The Warrior Reunion Foundation is a non-profit that brings combat veterans and their units back together to enjoy fellowship, service, and the great outdoors.
This is the second year the Smartt family has volunteered; Ryan even enlisted the help of his father Scott to help out.
His wife Kim says bringing their kids along serves as an invaluable life lesson.
“Our pay back is purely the thanks,” said Kim. “Things like the campfire stories, I think it's a great experience for our kids up here helping as well. They were up last year. Our youngest was, I think about a month and a half old and was up here last year. So the two older ones are up here and they clean and they help right alongside of us.”
Ryan calls giving up a three-day weekend a small sacrifice considering what the Marine Corps veterans of the 1st Recon Battalion have been through.
“We get the stories from their units where they took some heavy combat losses and then they've lost more of their men to suicide afterward than they did actually against the enemy,” said Ryan. “So some of the moments up here are definitely pretty powerful.”
“It's a drop in the bucket of what we can do to pay back and give it back,” said Kim.
Ryan might not be a mess hall cook, but he’s definitely doing something right.
“When they get really quiet, that means the food's good,” said Ryan.
The 1st Recon Battalion reunion featured a platoon that was among the first to invade Iraq in 2003. They were the subject of a book and subsequently an HBO mini-series called 'Generation Kill.'
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