News: Vikings honor the military and veterans
Story by Master Sgt. Rich Kemp
MINNEAPOLIS - “Vikings fans, welcome to the Military Appreciation Game. Today, on Veterans Day, we’ll join our fellow Americans in remembering the sacrifices of our military men and women and their role in ensuring the freedom of this great nation,” stated the public address announcer before the Minnesota Vikings game, Nov. 11, against the Detroit Lions at Mall of America Field in Minneapolis.
The Vikings started the day with pregame ceremonies to honor military members and veterans. It began with a performance by the 34th Red Bull Division Band and then the Minnesotan’s Military Appreciation Fund presented grants to two Purple Heart recipients, Sgt. Derrick Goodridge and Spc. Steve Sorlie.
Crew members of the USS Minnesota presented Zygi Wilf, the owner of the Minnesota Vikings, with an honorary plaque. The submarine was christened by the Navy in October and was named in honor of the state’s citizens and their continued support to the nation’s military.
“The Vikings Salute to Service game is my favorite game to produce each year,” said Bryan Harper, executive producer of the Vikings Entertainment Network.
“Our fans are remarkable with their response to our nation's military and veterans. I am honored to have the opportunity to work on such a project with so much support from our ownership and the NFL. These soldiers and veterans are true heroes and being able to recognize them in the forum of a Vikings game is a small way to show our appreciation.”
World War II veteran Liz Strohfus was the honorary Viking for the game and sounded the Gailajhorn to signal the Vikings are coming. Strohfus was a Women’s Air Force Service Pilot (WASP) during WWII.
Members of the Minnesota Army and Air National Guard joined Vikings cheerleaders to welcome the players onto the field. Capt. Shannon Gregory, commander of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 147th Assault Helicopter Battalion, led the Vikings players out onto the field, carrying a large Red Bull flag. Gregory circled the field and followed the Vikings flag with the Red Bull flag after each Vikings score.
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to lead the players out onto the field,” said Gregory, who returned from a yearlong deployment in October. “The players were very gracious to come over and speak to me and my son. It was incredible.”
Before the start of the game, a riderless horse crossed the end zone during a moment of silence to honor those that have made the ultimate sacrifice to their communities, state and nation. The riderless horse symbolizes a warrior who would ride no more.
The Red Bull band performed again at halftime, while the Vikings and the Minnesota National Guard expressed their appreciation to the Serving Our Troops organization. Since 2004, the Serving Our Troops team has served more than 70,000 steaks to Service members overseas and to their families back in Minnesota.
More than 200 cities, counties and businesses have been proclaimed as Yellow Ribbon Networks in Minnesota. Members of the Brooklyn Park, Chaska, Chanhassen and Forest Lake Yellow Ribbon networks were recognized on the field for their support of Servicemembers, veterans and military families.
Col. Eric Kerska and members of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division marched onto the field and were welcomed home by the Vikings and the fans in attendance. The 1st Brigade returned in April from a deployment in support of Operation New Dawn. The soldiers provided base security in Kuwait and performed route security operations in support of U.S. forces throughout Iraq. Commanded by Col. Kerska, the brigade assisted with the successful drawdown of personnel and equipment from Iraq.
Also honored during the game were Sgt. Shawn Schmidt as the Hometown Hero and Sgt. Andrew Hardin as the Soldier of the Game. Schmidt and fellow crew members pulled eight Iraqi civilians out of a burning vehicle while on a mission conducting convoy escort security during the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq. Hardin deployed to Iraq with the 34th Infantry Division in 2009 and is the division Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
"It's an honor to integrate the military into all aspects of Vikings game day and we are thrilled at yet another successful Salute to the Military,"said Harper.
The Vikings capped off the day with a victory over the Lions, making it a successful day for all those in attendance.