Utah soldiers bring Pioneer Day to Afghanistan
No, there won't be any handcarts, prairie dresses or parade floats.
Yes, there will be a barbecue complete with Jell-O.
"It wouldn't be a Utah celebration without it," said Army Capt. Chad Lewis, of Logan.
Utah soldiers deployed to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan are planning what they think is the inaugural Pioneer Day celebration there. Personnel from the Utah National Guard are organizing the festivities and have scoured other units to invite Utahns deployed to Kandahar.
Army Capt. Patrick Carucci, of the 115th Engineer Facilities Detachment based at Utah's Camp Williams, said in a video call that he and a major in another Utah unit developed the idea. The Utahns will gather Thursday underneath an awning and grill steaks on an old stainless steel barbecue that Carucci said "looks older than the country."
He expects about 20 Utahns to attend.
"It's not very large, but it's not very often you get Utahns across a world together," Carucci said.
Carucci is a Roy native who earned his commission at Utah State University.
The celebration will have a two purposes for Carucci. He said he and 11 other soldiers are due to come home soon. They'll be celebrating Utah and their pending departure.
Staff Sgt. Lyndsey Prax, of Draper, won't return to Utah until at least October and maybe not until December. She's deployed with the Utah National Guard's 128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Prax's parents and six of her eight siblings are in Utah. Prax said friends and family who recently attended Draper Days posted photos on Facebook. They made her homesick, and she's looking forward to a Pioneer Day morale boost.
"Maybe I can get back at them by showing them that I'm having fun, too," Prax said with a laugh.
Prax is hoping her commander gives her the day off. Carucci said most of the attendees will visit the barbecue as they finish work or between assignments.
Lewis is deployed to Afghanistan for the second time with regular Army. The first time was he was in combat with the 101st Airborne Division. There was no time for a Pioneer Day celebration then.
"There were a lot more things going on," Lewis said. "We got shot at a lot more."
This time, Lewis conducts computer network cyber security for the 4th Brigade Combat Team 4th Infantry Division. He'll attend the Pioneer Day barbecue and will bring two friends from other states.
Lewis is based at Fort Carson, Colo., said there have been some Colorado Day celebrations in Afghanistan. That's celebrated on Aug. 1.
But he expects the Pioneer Day festivities to be more substantial.
Lewis has ancestors who were handcart pioneers, and he has told his friends the history of Utah's Mormon settlers and the hardships they endured.
The stories and the celebration will make Lewis less homesick, he said.
"Little things you can get from home give you a normal life," Lewis said.
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