Veterans gathered in the West Virginia sunshine to enjoy BBQ on the platter and some good-natured competition.
The event had all the great ingredients for a weeklong BBQ Bootcamp, where some Veterans learned how to be pit masters. Five teams of five Veterans picked up some valuable skills they can use to find a job or maybe even start a business.
Veteran Joseph Bowser and his team
The instructional event was conducted by Operation Barbecue Relief (OBR), with a lot of help from their friends at VA’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the Veteran Canteen Service (VCS) and the staff of Martinsburg VA Medical Center.
The Veterans started with a safety briefing and a day of training from world class pit masters.
Once the BBQ Basics training was complete, the food that was prepared was judged by a panel and awards were provided for best steak, best ribs and best overall BBQ.
The food produced went to feed employees and Veterans at the Martinsburg facility.
“Everyone involved has been unbelievable from the start.”
“The accomplishments of OBR, the Veterans and OEM over this last week have been heartwarming and emotional,” said Dr. Paul D. Kim, OEM executive director. “I am so proud of everyone. VCS, the VAMC, all employees and everyone involved has been unbelievable from the start. The Veterans participating in the event were enthusiastic and dove right in. Their true competitive nature was on display for the entire two days. Everyone, including myself, learned a thing or two about barbecue.”
Operation BBQ Relief is a nonprofit organization that was founded in May 2011 in response to a need for tornado relief efforts in Joplin, Missouri. They served over 120,000 meals in 13 days.
To date, Operation BBQ Relief has provided over nine million meals throughout the United States and internationally following natural disasters and COVID-19 response.
Through “The Always Serving Project,” it has helped the homeless, first responders, Veterans and members of the military.
On the first day of competition, Dr. Kim was a judge, admitting it was, “Tough work and a sacrifice.”
Emergency teams meeting brought Bootcamp to VA
Dr. Kim met members of Operation BBQ Relief while deployed to Lake Charles last hurricane season where they were serving 28,000 meals a day.
He toured their operations and discussed ways to partner in the future. He then reached out to Ken Allensworth, Martinsburg VAMC director, who agreed to host the event on campus.
Forty-two Veterans participated in the BBQ Bootcamp. Some were outpatients who had completed the program and came back to learn new skills to assist them in future employment opportunities.
A Veteran and VA employee: “Just wanted to say a huge thank you. Seeing my fellow co-workers laugh and enjoy themselves outside was a breath of fresh air – literally. This event improved workplace morale and an overall sense of appreciation.”
One of the Veterans attending the Bootcamp was SFC Joseph Bowser, advisor to the Secretary of the Army.
Many Veterans talked about how appreciative they were of the opportunity. Some have registered to volunteer with OBR in its future endeavors to keep serving.
The Martinsburg event is “hopefully” a pilot for future partnership opportunities to serve Veterans and their communities.