FORT WORTH -- Pvts. George Quiles and Fernando Ruiz normally might stand out in their U.S. Army uniforms while checking out salsa for sale at the Fort Worth Stock Show.
But their uniforms were as common as jeans and boots on Monday when 180 service men and woman from Fort Hood attended the show on Military Appreciation Day.
It was the first time the Stock Show had attracted such a large group of soldiers, officials said. Several of the men and women, especially those originally from major cities, said they had never been to a livestock show.
"It's different and a pretty nice little break for us," Ruiz said. "I don't know a lot about stock shows but I know the food smells good. I think we're all after some grub."
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For almost 10 years, the Stock Show has offered a special day for the military, sponsored by Denbury Resources, in which active and retired personnel get in free. Last year, show officials invited servicemen and women from recruiting detachments in the area, said Clay Melton, a Stock Show director and a retired Army general.
This year, officials made a special effort to attract more soldiers by contacting Fort Hood.
"First time we have ever brought this many soldiers up from Fort Hood in one group," Melton said. "A day for them to break loose and have a little fun and a day for us to show them our appreciation. We really hope they all enjoy it."
Officials arranged for the soldiers to spend an hour roaming the grounds before sitting down to a "Texas barbecue," said Meredith Case, the Stock Show's ticket sale coordinator. Coburn's Catering prepared brisket, baked beans and potato salad, complete with sliced onions, jalapeños and pickles. Desert was peach cobbler.
The servicemen and women arrived on buses about 11 a.m. Other Stock Show visitors stopped on the sidewalk and waited for the long line of soldiers to pass as they walked onto the grounds. Some people took pictures.
After a short briefing, the soldiers scattered, strolling past cowboy hats, boots and jewelry for sale; wandering into Justin Arena to watch the paint and quarter horse barrel races; or sampling fresh salsa on tortilla chips and peanut butter fudge from vendors.
Occasionally, someone would stop a group of servicemen and women to shake their hands or ask where they are from. A few white-haired, elderly veterans introduced themselves. One solider sat on a bench and ate a funnel cake under the sun.
Aside from the food, soldiers said the rodeo was their other big area of interest.
"I've never seen anything like this, so I wouldn't mind seeing some bucking horses," Specialist Allen Limbaga said.
"Yep, we want to see some people get thrown around," Pvt. Norman O'Hara said as he ate from a basket of fried chicken fingers. "I actually think I went to a rodeo once when I was a kid but it's been so long that I don't even remember. Should be fun though."
The day also included a special demonstration by the Horse Cavalry Detachment, 1st Calvary Division -- also from Fort Hood -- in the Justin Arena.
"We don't get to do stuff like this often, so we're going to enjoy it," O'Hara said. "You always like a little break."
Alex Branch, 817-390-7689