Ready to serve: Odessa VFW sends supplies to wildfire-affected town

Odessa Veterans of Foreign Wars recently delivered much needed supplies to support those still recovering from the Smokehouse Creek Fire in the Texas Panhandle. (Courtesy Photos)

John Tripplehorn wasn’t going to let the Panhandle weather have the final say on his plans.

As Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Pampa, Tripplehorn had arranged for the band from Pampa High School to perform down main street to welcome the incoming convoy of donations from Odessa.

In typical Texas panhandle weather, blustery weather with dirt kicking up, prompting conversations about moving the welcoming party to the rodeo grounds.

“To hell with that noise,” Tripplehorn recalls saying. “Lucifer made this awful wind and that awful fire and I’m not going to let that sumbitch have the last say on this convoy going down Main Street.”

And the band played on, welcoming in the more than a dozen vehicle convoy from Odessa on April 6, bringing hay bales, dog food, toilet paper and fencing supplies to an area still recovering from the Smokehouse Creek Fire.

Burning more than 1 million acres in a month’s span, the fire left ranch land decimated and people unable to properly feed their livestock.

Destroying homes and property, the fire has also been attributed to at least two deaths.

The brainchild of Rick Mitchell, commander for VFW Post 4372, the Heroes for Herds came about as information about ranchers in the Panhandle started coming out.

As a livestock owner, Mitchell knew what supplies would be needed for those communities and started making plans.

Putting a call out for help in March, Mitchell ended up receiving more than expected. Sun Country Farms donated 152 hay bales, he said, while Hughes Transportation, Western Trucking and Panther Trucking donated tractor-trailers to help make the delivery.

His reasoning for raising donations was simple: it’s the right thing to do.

“It’s just Texans helping Texans,” Mitchell said.

The supplies were welcomed, Tripplehorn said, but some people took convincing to take their share. Once rancher who had already lost 50 since the fire due to a lack of food, initially refused to take supplies because he did not want to take from someone more in need.

Mitchell and his crew not only brought in supplies, but also helped with unloading. In response, Tripplehorn had a spaghetti meal made to celebrate.

“It makes you proud to be a Texan,” he said.

As a veteran, Mitchell said service does not end once a person leaves the military. Looking for ways to help others is something the VFW does while trying to emphasize a mission of camaraderie and togetherness.

Sometimes a simple gesture can go a long way.

“It’s gratifying work but we don’t expect anything in return,” Mitchell said. “We did it because it’s the right thing to do and we’re all here to support each other.”