Army Reserve Soldiers Represent Army at Pepsi 400

By Staff Sgt. Christine L. Andreu-Wilson, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., July 9, 2007 - Though clouds were overhead at the Pepsi 400 NASCAR race July 7, nothing could dampen the spirit of the 49th annual race or its fans.

Soldiers of the Army Reserve's 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) from Orlando, Fla., were among the 82 soldiers who took part in presenting the U.S. flag in the pre-race ceremony.

Men and women of the Army Reserve came from units as far away as Massachusetts and Ohio to take part in the ceremony. The soldiers ran the American flag onto the center of the racetrack and then unraveled it while Bianca Ryan, the winner of the "America's Got Talent" television show, sang the "Star-Spangled Banner." Ordinarily, race officials said, it takes at least 150 soldiers to carry the 1,400-pound flag, but the soldiers happily managed the load.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert J. Quinn, 741st Postal Detachment, 143rd Sustainment Command, said it was gratifying not only to carry the flag but to also see the fans who support the troops.

"It's rewarding for us soldiers. Racecar driving is a big American event; it really brings out people's patriotism," Quinn said. "It got me pumped up to hear people shout, 'USA, USA, USA.' The esprit de corps that's here, that's what it's all about -- just knowing that these Americans support us."

The crowd and soldiers cheered as four U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle fighters from Tyndall Air Force Base flew low over the track with their afterburners aglow in the night sky, while on the ground fireworks lit up the infield of the track. Pepsi 400 fans shook the stands with a standing ovation for the troops as the soldiers passed by carrying the U.S. flag.

Sgt. Anthony J. Pekala of the 993rd Medium Truck Palletized Motor System Company, 143rd Sustainment Command, a self-professed NASCAR fan, said he believes it's important for soldiers to be represented in a positive light.

"This event is good exposure for the Army Reserve and the military," Pekala said. "It's good for the public. It's good that Americans see that we're real people."

Staff Sgt. Loretta L. Young, of the 1186th Transportation Terminal Brigade, in Jacksonville, who served with the 143rd Sustainment Command during her deployment to Kuwait, was appreciative of the support.

"It's a privilege to serve. I'm serving my country," Young said. "I'm going to be here no matter what."

After the pre-race ceremonies, soldiers were invited to watch the race from various racing pits, which made some of them feel like celebrities. But some, like Young, got to actually meet some of NASCAR's royalty.

"Richard Petty, he came by and shook our hands," Young said. "That was fantastic. They really show us that there are Americans who support us."

Jamie McMurray won the Pepsi 400 later that night by .005 seconds. Kyle Busch came in second, and Kurt Busch won third place.

(Army Staff Sgt. Christine L. Andreu-Wilson is assigned to the 204th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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