Nearly one year after members of the Northwest Towns Sportsmen's Club shipped off venison jerky from their deer hunting season to American troops abroad, they got their just rewards: The officer on the receiving end in Afghanistan came to thank them.
Army Capt. Court Harris of Arlington Heights, son of Illinois state Rep. David Harris, arrived in his fatigues and combat boots to meet with club members late last month.
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"It was perfect," Harris said of their shipment, which included nearly 350 boxes of the handmade jerky, along with donated cases of Oreos, Cheese Nips and Wheat Thins from Kraft Foods.
"We know all the work that went into making it, shipping them off and filling out all the customs forms," he added. "Know that it was not lost on us. We really appreciated it."
Harris is a 2003 graduate of St. Viator High School and a 2007 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He recently returned from his second tour in the Middle East, after earlier serving in Bahrain and Kuwait.
In Afghanistan, Harris was on special assignment, serving as the executive officer to the senior U.S. commander in the western region. He led a specialty unit made up of 150 American soldiers as well as 100 Italian and Spanish troops, all part of the NATO operation.
They were based near the city of Herat, which is Afghanistan's third largest city, and worked with local Afghanis to advance government initiatives, increase stability and maintain peace, Harris said.
"Part of being on a NATO base is that there is no American food," Harris said. "So to have the jerky, it really was a taste of home."
He added that the concept of jerky was new to the European troops, who mostly ate a diet of fish and chicken while on the base.
"You knew you were supporting the troops, but what you didn't know was that you were building relations with our brothers from Europe," Harris told the club. "They loved the jerky."
This was the seventh year members of the Sportsmen's Club had gathered to turn their game into jerky for the troops, and already they are gearing up for next year's project.
Wayne Wagner, a former speech and English teacher at Rolling Meadows High School, conceived the idea but in recent years he has handed it off to Brian Halwix of Union, who has coordinated the effort.
This year, Halwix says club members will be partnering with Wayne's Meat Market in Marengo, whose owner has offered not only to grind up all their donated deer meat -- already at more than 400 pounds -- but smoke it as well.
Members say the jerky is a high-protein snack that provides instant energy for soldiers who may be away from their base for an entire day, and Harris concurred.
"Since we were serving on a European-run NATO base, there was a lack of beef in our diets," Harris said. "The jerky provided a little kick, especially in the middle of the day."
In appreciation for the club's generosity, Harris presented them with a flag that had been flown over the NATO base on 9/11. As one of the executive officers of the American troops, it was Harris' responsibility to raise and take down the flag each day.