June 8, 2007

29th ID Soldiers enjoy VIP treatment on race day

By Pfc. John Wood
29th Infantry Division Public Affairs

World War II veterans and Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division pose for a photo on race day at Richmond International Raceway May 5. The Soldiers and veterans received VIP treatment at the raceway with free passes, pit tours and the opportunity to meet Casey Mears, driver of the No. 25 National Guard car. (Photo by Pfc. John Wood, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs.)

RICHMOND, Va. – The skies were filled with a mix of heavy clouds and the roaring thunder of racecars May 4 as Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division enjoyed VIP treatment at the Richmond International Raceway with free passes, pit tours and the opportunity to meet Casey Mears, driver of the No. 25 National Guard car.

About 25 division Soldiers and a handful of division World War II veterans were able to enjoy the show complements of a National Guard program that partners with NASCAR to provide recreational opportunities to units with heavy deployment rates. More than half of the Soldiers on the trip just recently returned from a deployment to Iraq.

The 29th ID Soldiers and the veterans were given a tour of the pit -- the inside of the race track where all of the racing crews are set up -- where they were able to talk to the crews. After the pit tour, the Soldiers and veterans met Mears. Division Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Price presented Mears a division coin as a token of the leadership’s appreciation for the trip.

While waiting for the race to begin, the veterans talked to the younger 29th ID Soldiers and said that they were very proud of what they are doing.

“I am very impressed with [the Soldiers,]. They are high quality and high caliber men and women,” said WWII veteran Bob Slaughter who served with Company B, 116th Infantry Battalion.

Soldiers and veterans mingled with fans at the track and many asked to have their photo taken with the Soldiers.

Spc. Stewart Davis, 224th Aviation, just returned in February from a tour in Iraq. He spent time collecting autographs from the drivers. Davis said he was a fan of Mears “long before he was with NASCAR.”

The 29th Division Association National Vice Commander Bill King, formerly a former staff sergeant with the 116th, said that he has “been a race fan since 1945.” King said his association tries to give as many opportunities to the veterans as he can.

“I try to see these men get the credit they deserve,” King said.

Former Sgt. Mills Hobbs, a WWII veteran from Company A, 115th, said that being out in the pit and being given an opportunity to spend time with the Soldiers who just got back from deployment was “quite and experience.”

Sgt. Francisco O. Golon was one of the Soldiers who set up the trip. Golon said the opportunity to give the Soldiers and veterans the VIP treatment was “an experience of a lifetime.”

But while the tour and the autographs were nice, it was the cars that stole the show once they started rounding the track.

“One of the coolest things is walking along the track and having 43 cars going 90 miles per hour towards you and only having a chain link fence between you and the cars,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Poole, a member of TAC 1, 29th ID. Poole said he is a very big fan of NASCAR and enjoyed the chance to meet Mears.

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