CEDAR PARK, Texas (BP) — For Wes and Judy Pierce, founders of a veterans resource organization called Heroes Night Out, a large family and service to the country go hand in hand.
Of the Pierces’ 12 children — eight of whom are adopted — five sons have served in the United States military.
In 2007, sons Brian, Tim and Jeremy served in Iraq at the same time. Both Tim and Jeremy’s Army deployments stretched from nine to 15 months in Iraq.
“That was a bad year for Mama,” said Judy, laughing. Both she and Wes are members of Twins Lakes Fellowship in Cedar Park, Texas.
Their son Brian is an officer in the United States Air Force; he’s the only one of the Pierce sons to make a career of the military.
“The last boy came home in 2008 except for Brian. He just keeps going,” Wes said. Brian has been deployed to Iraq more than six times.
Son Troy was stationed at Fort Drum in New York State for the four years of his service in the Army. James, the youngest of the Pierce sons, is a nurse in California who currently serves in the Army reserves.
“We are all blessed they came back home and whole,” Wes said. “We never had to answer the phone call at night or the knock at the door that so many dread.”
Still, there were occasions of great emotion.
After Tim had been home on leave from Germany for a few weeks, Wes drove him to the airport for deployment to Iraq.
“At the airport, Tim and I had coffee and his plane was called. Right then you realize you are sending your kid to war. I gave him a hug and turned around and walked away. I could not look at him. It was the toughest day of my life,” Pierce recalled.
When asked what advice he would offer parents whose children are in harm’s way in the military, Wes said, “Keep the faith.”
“Remind them that they are involved in something bigger than themselves. We tell people, you can hate the war but do not hate the warrior.”
Serving the warrior came naturally to Wes and Judy. The beginnings of Heroes Night Out stem back to the Pierces’ visit to a wounded soldier at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio in 2008.
“The recruiter who had promised he would do everything in his power to keep our sons safe, and did, got blown up in Iraq and ended up an amputee. We visited him at BAMC where he had 20-plus surgeries,” Wes said.
During that visit, Judy met a young mother whose soldier husband was a double amputee. The wife’s children were staying with grandparents who could not keep them anymore.
“She did not know what she was going to do,” Wes said.
Judy convinced Wes to buy a $50 gift card to Chuck E. Cheese for the young mother.
“We drove back to Austin, got a gift card not knowing if we’d ever see her again,” Wes said. “We went down the next Sunday after church, and lo and behold, here was the girl again.”
Judy gave her the gift card, quickly realizing how inadequate one $50 pizza gift card could be.
“Some of the families staying at the Fisher House (housing for service families near military hospitals) are there for six months to two years, depending upon the injuries,” Judy said.
“We ended up scraping together money from our own pockets and putting together wallets filled with six $50 gift cards and handing out the wallets to different families.”
Families began nominating other families to receive the wallets, and the Pierces began tailoring the gift cards to suit each family’s needs.
Then came barbecues, starting with a November 2008 event at BAMC for 275, including Fisher house residents, their families, and active duty personnel who could not get home for Thanksgiving.
“From there, things just fanned out,” Judy said.
Heroes Night Out received 501(C)(3) status in 2008 and soon outgrew the Pierces’ home office. Four years ago, they contacted Nathan Hoeft, pastor of Twin Lakes Fellowship, about office space.
Hoeft offered the 6,000-square-foot former youth building. Within a year, the building had been refurbished. Again, the Pierces drew upon their family’s experiences to determine the direction of the organization.
“When our kids came back from Iraq, they had to go to different places to get their paperwork put together, to file different claims for funds for school, and so forth. That’s when we decided to bring the services to our veterans instead of having our veterans running around looking for services. That’s how we ended up with the resource center,” Judy said.
“All we wanted was an office, and we ended up with a 6,000-square-foot building. We had to figure out what we were going to do with a really big office,” said Wes, laughing.
Pastor Hoeft joked, “Our campus has a population of soldiers who hang out; they are loved and helped. It’s fun to see ‘good Baptists’ mingling with bearded guys who look like bass players for ZZ Top and ride Harley Davidsons.”
Heroes Night Out assists about 1,000 people per month, and opportunities for sharing the Gospel come easily.
“Ours is a peaceful property, allowing us to share where peace comes from, the Prince of Peace,” Hoeft said.
In the words of a Veterans Affairs loan officer who works at Heroes Night Out, “All we can do is to keep saying yes to God and then trust Him to lead us.”