It was 106 degrees on the parade field. As the sweat ran down our backs, our legs and our necks as we stood in formation, we could only hope the words by our honored guests were, well, brief.

The occasion was the send-off for the 34th Combat Aviation Brigade. Representation from Minnesota was impressive, and included Gov. Tim Pawlenty, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others. Their words reflected the gratitude of the state of Minnesota, and of the nation. They touched our hearts and kept our minds off the heat.

What made this day one we will never forget, however, came from the business owners and individuals representing Minnesota. Alongside our home-state soldiers, spectators from Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, New York, Missouri, Iowa and other states enjoyed the hospitality of Minnesota in the heat of Oklahoma. Minnesota businesses provided the band, and enough steaks, salad, potatoes and dessert for more than a thousand troops and their families. They also sent the folks who prepared the food and made sure this was a day our troops will never forget.

It is easy to thank them for their contribution. It is less clear how to adequately express our gratitude. It made more of a difference than they could ever know. Thank you.