Bill Balleza helps kick off Armed Forces Appreciation Day at RodeoHouston

HOUSTON – KPRC's own U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Bill Balleza, helped kick off the welcome ceremony for Armed Forces Appreciation Day at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

It's a highly celebrated day, but what might surprise you is that it's not even a decade old.

“It started with a woman by the name of Robin Young-Ellis, and she had gotten some friends together and they pooled their money and they went to the rodeo and they said, 'We want to buy tickets and take them out to Ellington Field and hand them out.' That's what they did, 500 tickets, and today, we're at, like, 7,500,” said Kelly Cook, a member of the Armed Forces Appreciation Committee.

The thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines started their day with a Texas style BBQ at The Hideout.

“They're out going to war and providing our freedoms for this country and the least we can do is serve them lunch, you know what I mean?” said Cook.

“Well, I was deployed last year so I couldn't be here, the first year ever not coming to the rodeo,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Ismael Guerrero.

As a Houston native, Guerrero grew up coming to the rodeo.

Now stationed at Ft. Hood with his wife and two daughters, he and his family were among the the many service members bused to the HLSR by the HLSR.

“Coming in from Ft. Hood … Ft. Polk, Ft. Bliss, the installation in San Antonio, Andrews, Randolph,” Cook said.

“Just the camaraderie the great, you know the great atmosphere. The smiles everywhere. The people thanking us for our service, it feels great,” said Guerrero.

“You can't go anywhere on the grounds here without seeing someone in uniform,” said Cook.

And while it may seem like Guerrero and his family are only at the rodeo to have fun, he had another mission in mind.

“I just want my kids to know that the country thanks us and appreciates us for what we do, and if they want to be what I am, they can also. They can be that,” said Guerrero.