No pie in the sky: Pizza wishes come true for US troops

A soldier enjoys a delivery from Pizzas4Patriots
A soldier enjoys a delivery from Pizzas4Patriots | Photo courtesy of Pizzas4Patriots
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Mark Evans says the first thing that comes to mind when he's asked about his non-profit work is a group of special operations troops.

"It was a team of guys, 17 of them, way out down range of the combat area," Evans said. "They didn't really believe it was coming."

What was coming was the fulfillment of a wish they'd made for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday: Pizza from home.

On that day, a low-flying plane flew into sight and dropped something big -- right into a nearby body of water.

"And these are special ops," Evans said. "So, of course, they jumped in and swam out to get it. They pulled it out of the water and opened it up. It was all packed in plastic and dry ice; not one pizza was destroyed. There was 100 pizzas in there for 17 guys."

Uno’s Chicago deep-dish style pizza, to be exact. In its nine years, Evans' non-profit Pizzas4Patriots has shipped more than 165,000 pizzas to troops overseas for the Fourth of July and Super Bowl. This past Super Bowl Sunday was no exception, as more than 1,000 pounds of pie were delivered to troops in Afghanistan and Kandahar during so-called “Operation Pizza Bowl.”

Pizzas4Patriots’ goal is to provide a little slice of home – literally – to military members both domestically and abroad.

"It's all paid for by donations," Evans said.

The idea was born on July 4, 2008, when Evans' son, watching soldiers in Iraq on television eating Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs, asked if they could have pizza delivered to them. Evans, who had made some well-connected friends during his own military service, contacted then-Gen. David Petraeus and said he'd like to send pizzas to Iraq.

"The first delivery was 2,000," Evans recalled. "The second delivery was 10,000. The next was 13,000."

In 2012, Pizzas4Patriots entered the Guinness World Records with a delivery of 30,000 pizzas to U.S. forces at Kandahar Airfield, Bagram Airbase and Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.

Two annual deliveries to U.S. troops are now a regular event for Pizzas4Patriots. The pizzas are carefully packed and shipped half-baked. And though soldiers have devised creative methods for reheating the pies, including the use of Humvee engines, most are prepared in field mess kitchens.

Evans said that asking troops he meets for the first time if they’ve ever had pizzas delivered is always a good icebreaker.

"And then they'll say 'yes'," Evans said. "And then they'll tell their stories. And believe me, there's going to be tears."

Pizzas4Patriots is hoping to again break records for deliveries this July 4, Evans said. As with each mass delivery, it will need a name, and during his talk with the Gulf News Journal, Evans tossed out some ideas and eventually landed on "Operation America is Great" as one he will suggest to the Pizzas4Patriots' board.

"Write in there that you had a part in brainstorming – no, facilitating – that idea," Evans said. "That's how you do it. Start a fire, change someone's life. There's nothing better than helping someone else reach that next level in life. I'm telling you, it's better than money, to go out and do what these soldiers are trying to do, to make the world a better place."