By Mason W. Canales

Fort Hood Herald

COPPERAS COVE - The Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee hosted soldiers of the 13th Sustainment Command for dinner and some conversation Thursday night.

"You have absolutely no idea how good it is to be out in the community," Brig. Gen. Terence Hildner, 13th Sustainment commander, said to those attending the dinner.

"I like coming to this for one reason and one reason only, because I believe in community relationships."

Community relationships let soldiers know their families are taken care of while they are overseas, he said.

Soldiers get through their time apart from family members by "sinking roots in the community," Hildner said.

Events like the dinner let soldiers know that that relationship exists, he said.

The chamber has hosted dinners with the military for 50 years, said chamber president Marty Smith.

Each member of the chamber's military affairs committee hosts one member of the unit that is asked to attend, Smith said.

Cove is the only area chamber that hosts dinners on a one-on-one basis. There are eight dinners a year.

For Leon and Judy Vernon, who are ranchers in Evant, the dinners are about building friendships and knowing their military neighbors. They have been attending dinners for at least eight years.

Neither was in the military, but they understand why the community needs to support the military.

Leon had two older brothers who served during World War II, and Judy had two brothers who served during the Vietnam War.

"I was a child at the time, but I remember the war effort and the sacrifices that everyone made," Leon said.

To be able to share a meal and let so many soldiers know there are people who care about them is the reason the Vernons attend the dinner, Judy said.

"We are just honored to meet so many young men and women," she said.

After the two groups mingled over steaks and drinks, Mayor John Hull gave Hildner a key to the city, and Smith presented him with a chamber hat.

Hildner gave a photo of the 13th Sustainment. The picture will not only remind the chamber and city what the unit does, but how much it supports it, Hildner said.

"He was talking about what we do for you," Smith said, addressing the soldiers in the room, "But that is very, very minor compared to what you do for us."

Contact Mason W. Canales at mcanales@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7474. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcoveeditor.

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