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Great Bend VFW hosts dinner for visiting Marines
VFW Serving Marines
Marines taking part in the Gunslinger military exercise were treated to a pulled-pork dinner hosted by Great Bend VFW Post 3111 Monday evening at Expo I west of Great Bend. (courtesy photo by Cpl. Ryan Schmid, U.S. Marines)

It might have been short notice, but when the Marines called, Great Bend VFW Post 3111 was ready to help.

As part of a larger military exercise, a contingent of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve’s 4th Marine Aircraft Wing and the 134th Kansas Air National Guard are currently training at Great Bend Municipal Airport until June 28. The Great Bend VFW was contacted to provide the visiting Marines with a home-cooked meal in the midst of their training as an evening rest interval on Monday.

“Family services from the Army National Guard contacted us, and asked us if we’d be willing to put this together with the Kansas USO,” said VFW Post Quartermaster Mike Harbaugh. “We were able to apply for a grant and get some money for the food and expenses. It was kind of short notice, but we were able to get it all together.”

The VFW and auxiliary cooked around 100 pounds of pulled pork, with an ample supply of baked beans and about 32 pounds of coleslaw for the event, expecting about 140 Marines for dinner during their training exercise Gunslinger 22.

“They’ve been here for a couple weeks already and this is kind of a morale-booster with a home-cooked meal,” Harbaugh said. “We did brunch the other day and there was 100 over a three-hour period so we’re kind of set up for this kind of thing.” 

“This is kind of a first-time thing for us,” noted Great Bend Post Commander Bert Thompson. “It’s been in the works for a while, but for us it’s been a busy week and a half. It’s the first time we’ve ever done anything with the USO as well.

“It’s an honor for us, because it’s a way to get out into the community and say ‘hey, this is what we do. We do this for the veterans, all what we’re about,” Thompson said. 

It was also a time for the post and auxiliary to work together on a project, noted VFW Auxiliary President Brian Ewing. “We do what we can for our servicemen and women, to support them. It’s a call to action and we jumped in. It’s my first time doing anything like this as the president of the auxiliary.”

After the meal, the Kansas USO provided a relaxing game of cornhole for the participants, as well as boxes of cookies as a spinning-wheel prize.

“We’re extremely appreciative,” said Capt. Kristin Onofrio, U.S. Marine Corps communication and strategy officer for 4th Marine Aircraft. “We’re very thankful for the VFW and the other organizations that put together this dinner for us this evening. When the Marines are training, they don’t always have a chance to get a good meal.

“We’re very thankful for the support that we have received and we are very excited to come back in the future and train here again It’s our first time working in this environment,” Onofrio said. “It’s giving us a unique perspective and a way to utilize our assets and our capabilities outside of what we’re normally used to in a training environment.”

Marines conducting training exercise in Great Bend

The United States Marine Corps is conducting a military exercise, Gunslinger 22, at Great Bend Municipal Airport until June 28. 

Gunslinger is a large military exercise conducted by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve’s 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, and the Kansas Air National Guard’s 134th Air Control Squadron of McConnell Air Force Base. More than 1,300 Marines from 11 home training centers across the country have deployed to multiple areas throughout Kansas to participate in Gunslinger 22. 

Those areas include Salina and Lake Wilson, as well as Great Bend.

“During this exercise, we are performing a broad range of military operations, to include helicopter and fixed-wing operations, controlling aircraft, and aviation ground support,” said Col. David Joseforsky, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing Detachment officer-in-charge.

“Partnering with other military services, we plan to conclude our operations with an air assault to support the establishment of a helicopter refueling site. Our goal for this training is to ensure that we are ready, relevant, and capable of answering our nation’s call.”

Great Bend area residents can expect to see an increased military presence including personnel, vehicles, aircraft and equipment. Military personnel, aircraft, and equipment will not be on display or available for public viewing, as this is not an open house.

The 4th Marine Aircraft Wing is part of the Marine Forces Reserve. The unit comprises more than 7,200 Marines and sailors and 160 aircraft located in 14 states throughout the United States. The 4th Marine Aircraft Wing provides combat-ready aviation forces, capable of conducting missions across a range of military operations.