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Cause worth chewing on

Mark Wagemann works on labels for Jerky Worth Fighting For, while at the West Fargo VFW last Friday. Tyler Shoberg/West Fargo Pioneer

United States military veterans know how tough it is to be away from family and friends while serving their country overseas. They also know what a treat it can be to receive a surprise taste of home.

One West Fargo Veterans of Foreign Wars program is working to make sure North Dakota and Minnesota servicemen and women get a special, northland treat to help battle homesickness: venison jerky.

Several West Fargo VFW members banded together Friday to help package roughly 600 pounds of venison and elk jerky for delivery to troops currently serving their country on foreign soil. Some of those volunteering included Richard Belling, Daryl Best, John Oldahm and Bill Tuff, all of West Fargo.

VFW member Mark Wagemann, the founder of the program, also was on hand, keeping busy by filling out mailing labels. It is the fifth year Jerky Worth Fighting For has gathered delicious, smoked wild game for U.S. troops from the region, he said.

This year, besides the 600 pounds shipped out Friday, Wagemann said another roughly 300 pounds was sent out a few weeks ago. Both the Maple Valley Meat Locker in Enderlin, N.D., and Casselton Cold Storage processed the meat.

There were half a dozen VFW members on hand Friday to help gather together the vacuum-sealed packages of jerky into 10-pound bundles. Shipping from Fargo to their Mideast destinations takes about 10 days, Wagemann said.

This year, Wagemann said most of the parcels will be heading to Iraq and Afghanistan, even though there currently are no North Dakota units stationed there. He said he gets word of individuals from the region who are on various units spread far and wide to receive the jerky. Last year, jerky also was sent to Kosovo.

The nearly half-ton of jerky came from more than 20 deer and one elk (donated by an area rancher, Wagemann said). Some of the deer were donated by sportsmen; however 13 were given by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department after they culled a large herd at Sullys Hill National Game Preserve near Fort Totten.

Funding for processing and shipping came from several sources, including Case New Holland LLC, VFWs in Fargo West Fargo and Northwood, as well as the Fargo and West Fargo AMVETS. Wagemann said Jerky Worth Fighting For also received a $1,000 grant from the national VFW to help cover shipping costs.

The thousands of pounds the program has sent overseas to U.S. troops have been well received. Wagemann said he often receives e-mails from soldiers, thanking him and those involved in the program for a delicious taste of home.