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America Supports You: Miss America Breaks Bread With Soldiers

By Spc. Jonathan Montgomery, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

ATLANTA, July 7, 2005 – Less than 12 hours after Army 2nd Lt. Stephen Lucas arrived back from Iraq, he and three fellow Georgia-based soldiers were sitting down to dinner with Deidre Downs, better known as Miss America 2005.

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Deidre Downs, better known as Miss America 2005, sits down to eat with Georgia-based soldiers Sgt. Robert Griffin, Spc. Brent Goolsby, 2nd Lt. Stephen Lucas, and Staff Sgt. Terence Alford, who were just arriving back from Iraq for some rest and recuperation, during a July 3 dinner in Atlanta. Photo by Spc. Jonathan Montgomery, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Fresh off the aircraft, Lucas, a personal security detachment commander with the 36th Engineers in Iraq, was still wearing his desert camouflage boots beneath a pair of well-worn blue jeans.

Miss America didn't seem to notice as she joined the soldiers for dinner at Bone's Restaurant in Atlanta on July 3. Alongside Lucas were three other returning soldiers, Staff Sgt. Terence Alford, Sgt. Robert Griffin, and Spc. Brent Goolsby, who are back home on a special assignment after being in Iraq for six months.

"It is such a critical time," said Downs, an aspiring pediatrician, about America at war. "This is one of the coolest and most meaningful things I've been able to do."

Griffin, a human resources specialist, agreed. "This whole occasion is a blessing," he said.

Lucas said the time spent overseas has taught him lessons that can only be learned firsthand. "I gained an appreciation for the Iraqi culture," he said. "They're people just like us; ... they want their country free (from tyranny)."

Lucas also said he longed for things often taken for granted. "I'm happy to be here where things are green," he joked about seeing grass instead of sand.

Goolsby, who has yet to meet his 5-month-old son, Jonathan, said he had a "couple of butterflies here and there," when talking about meeting his first-born child. "It'd be nice to meet my son for the first time," said Goolsby, who was deployed three weeks before his wife went to the delivery room.

The carefree dinner played in stark contrast to the dangers U.S. servicemembers are facing overseas, said Alford, a night convoy driver responsible for carrying vital supplies to the different forward operating bases across Iraq. His vehicle has been struck twice by roadside bombs, and the vehicle in front of him was hit in another incident.

"It feels good to be back in the U.S.," he said. "I'm still trying to decompress."

Unknown to the troops' wives, who were participating in the Salute to America parade in downtown Atlanta July 4, the four soldiers would have the chance to see their spouses and children recognized as honorary parade grand marshals prior to a surprise reunion.

After dinner, the soldiers were driven away in a sleek, black limousine to purchase flowers for the loved ones they would surprise the next day during the Salute to America parade.

In addition to taking the troops to dinner, the 25-year-old Downs said she has visited wounded U.S. troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

(Army Spc. Jonathan Montgomery is assigned to the 3rd U.S. Army Public Affairs Office.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDeidre Downs, better known as Miss America 2005, poses with Georgia-based soldiers Sgt. Robert Griffin, Spc. Brent Goolsby, and 2nd Lt. Stephen Lucas, who were just arriving back from Iraq for some rest and recuperation, during a July 3 dinner in Atlanta. Photo by Spc. Jonathan Montgomery, USA  
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