By Army Staff Sgt. Stephanie J. Cross
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 24, 2009 - Louisiana National Guard members serving in Iraq had some traditional Fat Tuesday fun today when a support group from their home state sent the Mardi Gras revelry to them. "Okay, Louisianans and Mardi Gras enthusiasts everywhere, time to spread the love!" exclaimed Greta M. Perry, Louisiana state coordinator for the support group Soldiers' Angels. "We have Louisiana Guardsmen who have been in Iraq for a while and could use some Mardi Gras cheer."
For the second year in a row, volunteers from Soldiers' Angels, in conjunction with the Louisiana Family Readiness Group, sent the carnival spirit to deployed Louisiana National Guard soldiers. Care packages included Louisiana food, costumes and masks, decorations and music, along with beads and cups, which traditionally are tossed from floats.
This year, 1st Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment of Hammond, La., was chosen as the recipient of Operation Overseas Mardi Gras 2009. The unit currently is deployed to Balad, Iraq.
Amry Capt. Mark S. Parent, who deployed in 2005 with Company E, 111th Aviation Regiment of Alexandria, La., said his unit did not receive donated Mardi Gras decorations while deployed, but he took it upon himself to carry on the Louisiana tradition by celebrating the Mardi Gras holiday while in Iraq.
"I can't explain how much of a morale boost it was for the troops as we drove around Iraq during Mardi Gras in a Humvee decorated with beads and feathers," Parent, rear detachment commander for the battalion, said. "We tossed Zapp's potato chips to the crowd as we listened to a boom box playing Mardi Gras music.
"That was the high point of our deployment, with the exception of when it was time to come home," the Baton Rouge, La., resident added.
Parent stressed what a joy it will be for the soldiers deployed with the 1st battalion to receive support from friends and family through Mardi Gras care packages.
"I hope that the unit can encourage everyone around them to have fun and spread a little Mardi Gras cheer to those who are unfamiliar with the holiday Louisianans have grown to love," he said.
Last year, in an effort to send Mardi Gras merriment to deployed troops, Soldiers' Angels sent decorations and party supplies to companies of the 769th Engineer Battalion from Baton Rouge, which was then on a 12-month deployment in Iraq.
"Our goal this year is to have each soldier deployed with the 1/244th receive a package. If enough items are gathered, an additional Guard unit will be added. We are encouraging people throughout the state to get involved," Perry explained.
(Army Staff Sgt. Stephanie J. Cross serves with the Louisiana National Guard).