On a crisp October morning in Oklahoma, volunteers begin arriving long before sunrise. There are 300 meals to serve, signs to place, parking spaces to clear and an assortment of other tasks to be done in advance of the arrival of today's heroes—about 150 kids ranging in age from 5 to 15 who have a parent serving in the Oklahoma National Guard.
The day has been organized by the 4-H Foundation of Oklahoma, but everyone understands the real work has been done by Gerry Shepherd, owner of Oklahoma Roofing & Sheet Metal Inc., Oklahoma City. The event is held at Gerry's ranch; his family and friends make up the core of the volunteer team.
Says Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, who heads the Oklahoma National Guard: "Gerry just doesn't know how to say no. When it involves the military or kids, we always know we can count on him."
It has been a tough few years for the Oklahoma National Guard. About 2,700 guardsmen and guardswomen were deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, and 2,200 were sent to Iraq as part of the "surge" in 2011. In both places, they have taken casualties.