Guardfather Tailgating 4 Veterans will return Aug. 31 behind Southern Hall and in the courtyard in front of Kennard-Washington Hall four hours before kickoff, according to organizer John Pace.
For the second year, Pace’s unofficial group of volunteers, Team John Boy, will partner with Southern Miss’ Center for Military Veterans, Servicemembers and their Families, the Southern Miss chapter of Student Veterans of America, Hooters, Coca Cola, Keith Superstores, Supertalk Mississippi and Papa John’s, where Pace serves as Director of Marketing and Community Outreach.
The tailgating event began as a support for Pace’s daughter and other members of the Southern Miss Pride of Mississippi color guard until Justin Blackburn, co-owner of FastSigns, suggested they extend the invitation to veterans.
The son of a World War II veteran, Pace said he enjoys seeing veterans of all ages and experience levels attend.
“What’s amazing to me is seeing these young veterans that are beginning their career,” Pace said. “They’re at USM as a student now. Then you have the veterans who are just coming back from combat zones, people that are retired after 30 years that are there all the way up to Vietnam and Korea veterans.”
Pace said he shares a personal connection with SVA, who he said is responsible for the set up and take down of the tents.
“There’s a core of student veterans that do the hard work to make this happen,” he said.
President of SVA, retired US Army Specialist and junior social work major Kerri Parker said organizations and events centered around veterans provide “endless student veteran support.”
Parker said she experienced “the ultimate experience and camaraderie and hospitality” while attending Guardfather Tailgating 4 Veterans.
“It was more than community, but a family,” Parker said. “Veterans are always inspired, but because we are not the traditional college student, veterans have to prioritize schedules, hindering campus participation.”
CMVSF assists in the effort to get nontraditional student veterans involved.
Veteran Outreach Coordinator for the Center Michael McGee cited having a full staff, “military-friendly policies,” support programs and community engagement as the main methods.
McGee described his relationship with Pace as positive.
“Through some of our mutual relationships, we have established a relationship with Mr. Pace that benefit our student veteran community,” McGee said. “Additionally, through his position with Papa John’s, he has helped other university entities by sponsoring their training events.”
Pace has been volunteering and organizing community service projects for 31 years and has also been rewarded for his work.
The most special of the awards Pace has received are the Mississippi GIVE Award, awarded by Governor Phil Bryant in 2014, President’s Call to Service Lifetime Achievement Award awarded by the Obama administration in 2016 and the President’s Call to Service Lifetime Achievement Award, Special Focus: Veterans, Military and their Families awarded by the Trump administration in 2019.
Pace said he has grown to be more outwardly proud of his achievements, starting with listing his favorite awards in his email signature and acknowledging the number of sponsors he has acquired.
Most recently, Pace has secured 31 sponsors for an upcoming vintage military-style variety show.
“That means 31 different companies in South Mississippi say we trust you with our money to go help these veterans, and they do that because they see, ‘He’s got a history of doing good.’”
For more information on Team John Boy, find them on Facebook.