News: George Lopez, Troops First Foundation surprise 1-319th AFAR
Story by Sgt. Mark Cloutier
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Having recently arrived in the Washington area for a very special tasking, paratroopers of 1st Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, received a surprise visit Jan. 12 from world-renowned comedian, actor and talk-show host George Lopez.
Soldiers of the 1-319th AFAR, Fort Bragg, N.C., are working in support of Joint Task Force National Capital Region, 57th Presidential Inauguration.
While the troops were in their hotel rooms preparing for the next task, they received a message from unit leadership instructing them to assemble in the hotel conference room.
Approximately 170 soldiers had just taken their seats when comedian George Lopez made his entrance and the crowd went wild!
Organized by the Troops First Foundation co-founder, Rick Kell, the George Lopez meet-and-greet was a time for soldiers to talk with, and exchange jokes and one-liners with an icon of comics – one who routinely performs in front of sold-out crowds.
According to Kell, the Troops First Foundation develops, operates and supports a synergistic group of wellness, quality of life and sports-based initiatives for today's military personnel.
Lopez opened the visit by saying he wanted to take the opportunity to show his appreciation to the troops, for their many sacrifices paid forward in the name of our country.
After his introduction, Lopez took his time to sign autographs and pose for photos with each soldier who wanted one. The comedian signed his name on everything from photographs to combat patches. He even made on-the-spot phone calls to a number of the troops' friends and family members.
As the visit appeared to be drawing to a close, Lopez asked the soldiers for their attention. And if the screaming and shouting was any indicator, the soldiers were overjoyed when Lopez revealed something really special – an ace he had kept up his sleeve until the very end.
“I want to thank you all for everything that you do in service to our country,” said Lopez. “And with that, I’m inviting you all to my show tonight at Constitution Hall!”
Constitution Hall holds more than 3,700 people and it’s almost always sold out, as it was on the day that Lopez invited the 1-319th to attend as special guests. So how could he give them seats to a venue that was already full?
“We usually keep seats reserved for special opportunities like this,” said Lopez.
Spc. Jesse Papa, field artilleryman, 1-319th AFAR, said it was a cool surprise to see George Lopez walk into the room. He said that the unit’s trip to Washington was starting out to be a pretty exciting time, with George Lopez topping the cake to a very unique and honorable training experience.
“I’m truly grateful for the fact that people like George Lopez, Rick Kell and the Troops First Foundation will be in our corner when any of our troops find themselves in a serious condition of recovery and rehabilitation,” said 2nd Lt. Christopher Miller. “People like this are answering a great need in the healing process of our veterans.”
Kell explained that, while many people will do what they can to support veterans, Lopez always takes it one step further. He calls when he’s in town and says, “We’ve got this amount of time, and we’d like to spend it with some vets. What can we do?”
“That’s just the kind of guy George Lopez is,” said Kell. “He insists on helping.”
The 1-319th AFAR is scheduled to remain in Washington for a while yet, as part of the Joint Task Force, providing logistical support. They will be the ones at the 57th Presidential Inauguration and Parade on Jan. 21 that shepherd the crowd of well over a million people to where they need to be.