Guardsmen treated to luncheon by Veteran farmers

Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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Michael Lewis, an Army Veteran and Kentucky farmer hands out lunches to Soldiers of the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade at the hidden Valley Training Site in Powell County, Ky., Sept.15, 2013. Lewis joined with the Department of Agriculture in presenting the one-of-a-kind Kentucky Proud luncheon to the unit in appreciation and also to bring awareness of programs available that assist Service members interested in farming. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

POWELL COUNTY, Ky. — Soldiers of the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade concluded an extensive three-day training weekend with a unique picnic lunch at the Hidden Valley Training Site near Clay City, Ky., Sept. 15, 2013.  The luncheon was courtesy of Kentucky’s Department of Agriculture and brought to them by a Veteran farmer.

“This a great end to a weekend,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Wilkins. “This weekend is quite different for these Soldiers, but so is this meal. What a treat for all of us.”

More than 400 Guardsmen of the unit participated in the Command Sergeant Major Challenge, an annual event for the 63rd that brings the aviation Soldiers out of the hangers and into the field for training in the Army Warrior tasks.

“I’m happy to receive a meal from Kentucky Proud,” said Spc. Tabitha King, a supply sergeant with 2/147th, “It’s from Kentucky so you know it’s going to be good.”

To see more photos from the luncheon, click here.

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Jason Noto, Kentucky Proud vendor and U.S. Marine Veteran speaks to the Soldiers of the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade at the Hidden Valley Training Site in Powell County, Ky., Sept. 15, 2013. Noto owns his own food business and farm in Sadieville, Ky., and prepared food for the Soldiers as part of a luncheon coordinated by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Brandy Mort)

The food was prepared by Jason Noto, owner and operator of Mia Nonni Mobile Food Truck and Shade Tree Farms in Sadieville, Ky. A native of Shelbyville, Ky., Noto served nine years in the Marine Corps and this year, followed a life-long dream of owning his own food business.

A menu of barbecue pulled pork and chicken, Italian sausage, vegetable boil of corn, potatoes and carrots were laid out with a variety of fixings available to each Soldier as they passed through the line.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer was on hand to oversee the event and took the opportunity to speak to the Soldiers about the Homegrown By Heroes and Kentucky Proud Jobs for Vets initiatives. He said farming and being in the military are very similar and combining the two could be be beneficial for Service members and their communities.

” I’m glad to be here,” said Comer as he stood at the front of the food line shaking hands with each Soldier who passed.

“This is just a small token of our appreciation for everything our Service men and women do for us every single day,” he said.

The first of it’s kind, Homegrown By Heroes is a label that denotes a product is grown or produced by a current or former Service member. The Kentucky Proud Jobs for Vets helps Veterans find employment in the agriculture sector.

Comer’s programs are being pushed by Veteran farmers already working in Kentucky, such as Michael Lewis.

An Army Veteran and Kentucky Proud farmer, Lewis also spoke to the Soldiers, informing them of the many opportunities available in farming.

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Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, James Comer greets the Soldiers of the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade during a luncheon at the Hidden Valley Training Site in Powell County, Ky., Sept. 15, 2103. The Department of Agriculture coordinated the event to show appreciation to the Kentucky National Guard and to bring awareness of local programs that assist Service members and Veterans in their own farming needs. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

“There are many jobs related to agriculture out there,” he said. “And agriculture is one of the largest employment sectors in Kentucky.”

“I am here to ask you help me and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture,” he said. “To spread the word about the importance of these programs, and to plant a seed. If that seed sprouts into a backyard garden or a farm, we are here to help in any way we can.”

Lewis is also the Director of Growing Warriors, a program that helps to equip and train Veterans and their families with skills, tools and supplies to grow their own produce.

“It’s nice to be appreciated for all we do,” said Pfc. Joe Lovely, an aircraft hydraulics repair specialist with Bravo Company 351st. “I’m honored that they are using their own time, their own resources and their own family to provide us with locally grown products.”

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