HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Thousands of Fort Lee soldiers bound for home were greeted with their own pizzas before boarding planes at the Richmond International Airport.
The idea was sparked in 2016 by Richmonder and mother to a marine, Kathy, who helped hand out the Papa John's pizza on Tuesday.
"I wanted to do something for our troops," she said. "I think they're definitely deserving of something special."
Kathy said she reached out to Papa John's headquarters located in Kentucky who agreed, alongside the USO, to bake fresh pizzas and wheel them to soldiers waiting to head home.
"Here at Papa John's we wanted to feed the troops and welcome them home. We wanted to simply thank them for their service," said Wayne Blanton, Papa John's Director of Operations.
Blanton, a fellow marine, said he felt compelled to drive from Kentucky with a mobile kitchen and work with local Richmond Papa John's to bake more than 4,500 for the servicemen and women heading home.
"For the two years combined, Papa John's from Kentucky and Richmond will have served 7500 pizzas to the troops," Kathy said.
Last year’s event also coincided with an ice storm, adding an additional level of complication to the logistics.
“We had planned on being on-site from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. for two days. Those became 12 and 13-hour days. We also mobilized our heater boxes to local bus terminals and train stations to deliver fresh pizzas to troops who had been rerouted,” said Stephanie Smith Paul of Papa John’s.
The young soldiers eager to see their families were able to choose between an 8-inch pepperoni or cheese pizza fresh from a heater on wheels.
"I think it's a great way to show their appreciation for the armed forces," said PVT 2nd class Julia Ranum.
Kathy hoped that others will see the generosity of the volunteers and do something good.
"Just everybody pay it forward," she said. "Do an act of kindness, smile at somebody and say hello if you see a troop."