Pizza 4 Patriots feeds troops overseas

A group of FDNY firefighters and officers pose A group of FDNY firefighters and officers pose for a photo next to a wall representing boxes of pizza at Avenue of the Americas and 48th Street in Manhattan. Pizza is being sent to Afghanistan for U.S. troops to enjoy during the Super Bowl, organized by Pizzas 4 Patriots and shipped by DHL. (Feb. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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Service members in Afghanistan will be noshing on 10,000 pizza pies as they watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, thanks to a 4-year-old program run by a retired Air Force master sergeant.

Mark Evans is the founder of the Pizza 4 Patriots program, which brings together large pizza restaurants, the shipping company DHL, the military and thousands of individual donors. The program has delivered more than 50,000 pizzas to troops in the Middle East since 2008, when Evans' son, then 15, asked him about the possibility of getting 300 pizzas to troops overseas.

"You don't ever want to say 'You can't do that,' " said Evans, a Chicago native who enjoys deep dish pizza. "My father raised me to be an astronaut. I aimed way higher; now I'm a pizza delivery guy."

Evans floated the idea in a letter to Gen. David Petraeus, then commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan. Within 12 hours, Petraeus responded: "Let's have a pizza party."

DHL, which does a lot of business with the armed forces, was the first delivery company to respond to his email, Evans said, agreeing to ship the pizzas free.

"This is our support for service members overseas," said Mike Taylor, global senior manager of U.S. government operations at DHL.

Though many restaurants have participated, the largest supporter has been Uno Chicago Grill. Uno's chief executive, Frank Guidara, backs the project because of his service in Vietnam, when he used to pack ice cream into hollowed out mortar shells and airdrop them to troops there, according to Ann Willets, Uno's spokeswoman.

DHL puts the pizza boxes on dry ice and flies them more than 10,000 miles to Bahrain, from which they are flown to bases in Afghanistan.

The project has been so popular that Evans does it twice a year, usually coinciding with Independence Day and the Super Bowl. This year's 10,000 pizzas represent the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Though pleased with the results, Evans is aiming higher.

His group will need a lot more support, he said, because "to send 50,000 pizzas to Afghanistan for Fourth of July this year will take a half a million dollars."

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