“It’s about beef and bullets. It’s about the soldiers who have written a check to the U.S. government, for everything, including their life,” says Bill Broadie of Ashland, KS.
A U.S. Marine veteran wounded in Vietnam and discharged in 1967, Broadie has a deep respect for U.S. servicemen and women. In 2007, the fourth-generation cattleman found his way to give back.
“I was driving down the road one day, listening to mainstream media and I kept hearing the bad, never the good, about the war in Iraq. I wanted to find something to do as an industry and what I came up with seemed like a pretty good way to support our own product while thanking the troops,” he says.
So Broadie contacted his boss, Jim Odle, general manager of Superior Livestock, Brush, CO, and told him he had a crazy idea. Odle loved it.
Within weeks, the idea of the All American Beef Battalion (AABB) was becoming a reality as Broadie and his team gathered donations to host steak feeds for deploying and returning U.S. soldiers. On April 26, 2008, 220 ribeyes were served to more than 200 servicemen and women and their families in Olathe, KS – marking the beginning of the AABB.
The non-profit has grown exponentially since then. On the first anniversary of AABB, it was estimated 10,000 steaks had been served. Coming up on its third anniversary in April, that number is nearing 65,000.
In 2010, AABB hosted 27 feeds around the country, with five scheduled for January and February 2011. A majority of the feeds have been in Kansas, Colorado and Texas, but Broadie says there is coast-to-coast opportunity.
“Two weeks ago, I got a call from New York. A little later, I had an email from the Vermont Beef Producers Association who wanted to do a feed for 1,500 guardsmen who had just returned home.
“A group in Washington State also contacted us about going out there and Oregon’s Country Natural Beef (CNB) helped set it up and got it going right away. Since the first feed, CNB has done feeds on its own. It’s not important who does it, it’s just important that somebody does it,” Broadie says.
Broadie is just one of many behind AABB and he credits the work of his team for the non-profit’s success. “This thing isn’t me; I’ve just surrounded myself with a lot of good people. It’s my crew that does it.”
Broadie says the core group consists of about 10 members, including AABB board members and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Rodeo Committee from Beef Empire Days in Garden City, KS.
However, the core group is constantly growing; case in point, Mike Arnold.
“Mike is a representative with Superior Livestock Auction and first helped us out last year when we had three feeds in one week. He came to Fort Hood and got very emotionally tied in. After the feed, he actually went out and bought his own cooker so he could continue to help. He’s been there ever since,” Broadie says.
It’s hard to not get choked up listening to Broadie share stories about AABB. Support comes from the most unexpected places and makes the purpose of the group’s feeds that much clearer.
“There was this young kid from Rock Spring, WY, who donated $500 from his 4-H steer. When asked why, he said wanted to buy some steaks for “Chance’s buddies” – Chance Phelps was a young Marine and family friend who had been killed in combat (he was at the center of a recent HBO special entitled Taking Chance). The stories are so neat and they just keep coming,” Broadie says.
However, AABB’s largest fundraiser in 2010 came from a place most cattlemen find familiar – the auction barn. The sales of donated cattle have kept AABB thriving financially.
“One of my customers had a son in the military and he decided to donate three feeder heifers to sell at the barn to help us out. Somebody was there, saw what was going on and it just spread. In two weeks, we had raised $75,000 from eight different auction barns,” Broadie says.
It’s clear the beef industry connects with AABB and understands, like Broadie, that the steak feeds don’t just give back to the troops, but it is also an opportunity to promote our product.
Broadie jokes, “When we get a vegetarian come through the line, we tell them they are out of luck. There are meat products in nearly everything we serve.”
And it is quality meat they’re serving, too. Broadie explains, “Tim Kirby from Kirby Meats in Dodge City picks up the steaks, long dry-ages and wraps them. After he’s done, you can cut our steaks with a plastic knife. It’s the best steak our troops have had in a long time.”
Looking ahead, Broadie sees only growth for AABB. “When we started this program, we wanted to take it to the combat zone, but we figured we better walk before we run.
“I would love to take our cookers over there and serve these kids a great American steak. It’s a dream for me, but a long-term dream. I trust the Lord and if we’re supposed to stay here, that’s where we will stay,” he says.
For now, if the first two months of 2011 are any indication, it’s likely the AABB will have a busy year ahead. That’s alright with Broadie and his crew.
“It’s an opportunity to serve the troops and the industry and to serve them for the right reasons. This generation of troops is the first set of servicemen and women that are 100% volunteers and these kids are tremendous. They are young, cocky and smart.”
AABB wants to feed each one of those volunteers a steak, but as their website states, “To do this we have a dream – it’s a mission bigger than any individual, but not bigger than the industry.”
Broadie knows, however, that what the troops are doing is much bigger than anything AABB can accomplish.
“We just did a feed in Fort Carson, CO, and this one young mother with a 6- or 7-year-old said to her son, ‘Give this man a big old hug because he is doing this because of what your daddy is doing.’ And all I can think is, ‘my gosh, what you’re doing for us is a lot more important.’ ”
To learn more about the AABB or to get involved, visit www.steaksfortroops.com.