Published: December 3, 2013
Their blocks-long formation stretched down Bijou Street when the cheer rose.
Scores of people hollered their support for the help they were about to receive from more than 850 soldiers.
"It means hope," said Roger Price who waited in line at the Marian House Soup Kitchen more than an hour for warm clothing hauled by the soldiers in their bulging backpacks.
It couldn't come at a better time. The 1st Brigade Combat Team's annual march to help the homeless reached its objective hours ahead of a powerful winter storm that's expected to send temperatures plunging.
"These next two days are going to be a challenge for these folks on the street," said Colorado Springs police officer Dan McCormack, who with the rest of the city's Homeless Outreach Team helped escort the marching troops.
Soldiers gathered before dawn in Dorchester Park, south of downtown and stuffed their packs. It's the fourth time in five years that the brigade dedicated one day of its morning marching time to helping those in need.
"I definitely want to do this," said Sgt. 1st Class Damir Lisica. "It's about giving to the community and doing the right thing."
His pack was filled with clothes and canned goods, Lisica and others got in step for the 4-mile jaunt through the city.
The troops weren't ordered to join the march. They volunteered.
"It brings them the holiday spirit of being to help out," explained Capt. Travis Kirkman, a chaplain.
Most of the 850 were out of uniform. Santa hats are not authorized headgear.
But their usually-stern sergeants were smiling.
"They do get into it," said 1st Sgt. Paul Villa.
Mark Rohlena, who heads Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, said the soldiers were setting an example for community service.
"One of the things I have been impressed with is how much the soldiers feel this is their community while they are here," he said.
At Marian House, clothes, food, toys and blankets poured from the green backpacks. The generosity overwhelmed the tables set to hold the donations.
The brigade's boss, Col. Joel Tyler, said the effort taught his troops an important lesson.
"It makes them understand why we serve," Tyler said. "Part of serving is giving back."
Price said the marching might of Fort Carson will save lives this week as homeless people bundle up against single-digit temperatures.
"It shows that people care about us," he said.