Soldiers march through the night to deliver toys, supplies for those in need
By TOM ROEDER | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: December 15, 2016
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — Marching in ahead of an expected storm, more than 1,400 Fort Carson soldiers brought Christmas cheer to downtown Colorado Springs, along with hundreds of blankets, sweaters, coats and gloves.
The troops of the 1st Brigade Combat Team also carried food, toys and camping gear. A dozen of them brought in bicycles on their backs for the annual march to help the city's homeless and needy.
"It means everything," said Tamara Young, who waited in line for frigid hours before dawn to partake in the bounty brought by soldiers in green uniforms topped with Santa hats.
The brigade's commander, Col. Curt Taylor, said the march, in its seventh year, gives his troops a chance to thank the community for its support.
"The thing that's amazing is we have 1,400 volunteers," said Taylor who marched at the head of the formation from Dorchester Park on Nevada Avenue to the Marian House soup kitchen downtown. "Soldiers love to serve."
Colorado Springs police Sgt. Scott Wisler said with colder weather and snow in the forecast for Friday and Saturday the soldiers also saved lives with the clothing and food they carried. Wisler oversees the department's Homeless Outreach Team, which worked Thursday to get the city's homeless into shelters for the cold snap.
"In not all cases do they want to come inside," he said.
While most of the soldiers hike just a couple of miles to donate the packs full of goods for the needy, others signed up for a more grueling journey.
More than 360 soldiers from the brigade's 4th Battalion of the 9th Infantry Regiment marched for 27 miles through the night to reach the Marian House.
Lt. Col. Lawson Bell, the battalion's commander, said the long march is part of the 9th Infantry Regiment's tradition - a smaller recreation of the regiment's 85-mile march in 1900 to rescue besieged Americans in the embassy district of Beijing.
"Now we get to march to the aid of needy families in Colorado Springs," Bell said.
The brigade's holiday march is preceded by months of planning.
Catholic Charities, which hands out the treasures delivered by the troops, calls it one of the city's largest charity events.
"It really saves lives on one end of the spectrum and it provides a Merry Christmas for those in need on the other end," said Andy Barton, who heads the non profit.
Command Sgt. Maj. Levares Jackson said soldiers look forward to the march. On top of the packs full of toys, clothing and food, they add holiday camouflage of tinsel and even battery-powered Christmas lights to their uniforms.
"It's about selfless service and giving back to others," he said.
One of the 27-mile marchers, Cpl. Ryan Shirley, said he and his comrades stayed in step through the long night by thinking about the people who would receive the stuff they carried in their heavy packs.
"It was the motivation that got us through," he said.