Thunder cracked throughout the restaurant as lightning lit up the dark evening sky. The atmosphere was heavy and sullen. They walked in soaking. Pools of water followed in their footsteps.
They made a bee-line straight for him. What they said next shocked him.
Robert Risdon is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army and head coach of the Columbus Lions football team in Georgia. As an adoring husband and father-of-two, family is something Risdon doesn’t take for granted.
His work schedule is busy and sometimes stressful but coming home to his loving family always makes the long hours and late nights worth it.
As head coach of the Columbus Lions, Fort Benning’s football team, Risdon sometimes needs to travel across the country to scout for players with his co-coach Jason Gibson.
They were on their way back from Mobile, Alabama, where they observed players practicing for the Senior Bowl during the weekend. Now, it was Monday and Risdon was exhausted from the weekend of travel. But he wouldn’t be able to relax just yet.
They were nearly half way through their journey back to Columbus, when they decided to stop at a Taco Bell in Greenville, Alabama. They had left late that day and it was just past dinner time. They were hungry but there was something else that made them pull over.
Not only did they need a bite to eat but they always needed to escape the storm that was steadily building over their heads.
They pulled into Taco Bell right on time. The second Risdon opened the door, a massive crack filled the air before the rain fell heavier and a flash of neon blue lit up the dark evening sky.
The rain was pelting against the windows as a rumble of thunder seemed to almost threaten to rattle the entire restaurant apart. But the storm would be the least of Risdon’s worries.
The restaurant was busier than expected. Risdon looked around and saw a number of people appearing to simply wait out the storm in the restaurant.
They ordered food and took their seats at the table in the middle of the restaurant. Risdon usually didn’t like Taco Bell but he was so hungry that he savoured every bite. He was so focused on his food that he almost didn’t notice the two figures that stepped inside.
They were dressed in dark clothes that were drenched inside out by the downpour of rain outside. Pools of water followed their footsteps to the till.
Risdon wondered how long it took for them to walk here. One of them was clutching something tight in his hands. Risdon noticed them looking around the restaurant nervously. They were surveying the place.
From Risdon’s years of training in the army, he knew how to spot suspicious characters quickly. He watched closely as they looked around at all the tables and people.
It was a behavior Risdon knew led to trouble all too well. Immediately, he perked up and focused his attention on the two strangers. Wearing his army uniform, he became a soldier again.
They were two young boys, one looked older than the other. He tried to listen as they leaned over and showed the cashier the item between their hands.
The cashier’s eyebrows knitted before her eyes widened and she shook her head profusely. She said something to them that Risdon couldn’t hear. But whatever she said made the boys act fast.
They quickly turned and began to approach other tables in the same manner. What were they showing them? Everyone they approached had the same reaction. The boys became desperate and began to move faster.
That’s when they spotted Risdon in his uniform.
Risdon expected them to run and hide as the uniform often provoked that reaction in younger boys but what they did surprised him.
They straightened up their posture and made a bee-line straight for him. Risdon was getting ready to assess the situation that had everyone staring at the boys but then he heard a shout.
One of the restaurant employees began to shoo the boys away but they were determined. They bypassed the worker and stood in front of Risdon. They were soaking. Risdon looked into eyes that appeared to have captured the entire moon.
What they said next shocked him.
“Do you want to buy some candy?”, they asked innocently. They discreetly showed him the bag full of baked goods. A big smile flashed across Risdon’s face before it suddenly disappeared again.
He wondered why these boys were selling candy at a restaurant and then remembered he had no cash.
He asked his co-coach, Gibson if he had any and he said he didn’t. He told the boys he had no cash and watched their shoulders slump and their heads bow in disappointment.
“What are you selling these for, boys?”, Risdon asked. “Don’t you like ‘em?”. The boys replied that they were trying to raise money for their church. Then turned to leave before Risdon called them back.
“They looked like they hadn’t eaten a meal in weeks and had been out in the rain selling their stuff for a while,” Risdon recalled.
“I can’t even count the number of times I was cold, wet and hungry in the Army. To sit in warmth and eat some tacos is a big victory for them.”
Can you boys finish off 10 tacos?” Robert asked. The two boys stopped and turned around with a huge smile on their face. They nodded proudly.
Robert got up off of his chair and brought them to the till. He told the boys that they could have anything on the menu for free. Their faces lit up. But before they agreed, they surprised Risdon further.
They rang their grandfather and asked Risdon to speak with him as proof that they weren’t using the church’s money to pay for their food. Risdon’s heart broke at their quiet obedience even though they had been walking in the rain and skipping dinner to help the church.
Risdon helped them order five tacos each, while Gibson captured the whole heartwarming encounter on video.
“They both ate their first taco in under a minute,” Gibson said. “I’ve never seen anyone devour food that quickly before.” The two men were also blown away by how respectful the two boys were.
“Everything was ‘yes sir, no sir,'” Gibson said. “Whoever is raising them is doing a great job.” But this is what one of the boys had to say to Risdon.
The youngest brother, BJ who was 9-years-old, recognized Risdon’s uniform and told him how much he wanted to be a soldier just like him when he was older.
“He was saluting me with his left hand while holding a taco in his right, which is the proper hand to use,” Risdon said. “So I made him put down the taco and taught him the proper way to salute, which will come in handy if he actually grows up to be a soldier.”
After the video of his encounter went viral, Risdon explained what was running through his mind.
“My kids were running through my mind the whole time,” he said. “The thought of my kids in their situation broke my heart, so it made me react and want to help the boys out and the least I could do was buy them some tacos.”