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Service Members Enjoy Washington Capitals' Military Salute

By Jamie Reese
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2003 – The National Hockey League's Washington Capitals hosted their 3rd annual "Salute to Military Night" at the MCI Center here Nov. 12.

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A U.S. Armed Forces Joint color guard presents the colors as Navy Musician First Class Beth Strittmatter sings the National Anthem during "Salute to Military Night" at the Washington Capitals game Nov. 12. Photo by Pfc. James Cornwell, USA
  

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Information Manufacturing Corp. joined the Capitals in sponsoring the event. The United Service Organizations distributed 3,000 tickets to military people and their families, and 3,000 more were made available via the Defense Department's Operation Tribute to Freedom Web site for the Capitals game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The arena's giant screen displayed video footage from military members overseas and messages in support of the troops. A moment of silence in honor of fallen military men and women preceded the opening face-off.

"The important part of tonight's game is the community involvement with the troops. The tribute would not have been possible without the help of the Operation Tribute to Freedom task force, The Washington Capitals and the community," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Amy Derrick, coordinator of tonight's events for Operation Tribute to Freedom.

Lynette Ebberts of the Defense Logistics Agency also helped Operation Tribute to Freedom in coordinating the event. "There are three main goals: to pay tribute, to remind people that the war is not over and to recognize the community's relationship with the troops," she said.

Many service men and women could be seen cheering the Capitals on to a 7-1 victory. Though most received tickets to seats up at the 400 level, many were upgraded to the 100 level at the beginning of the game.

Army Staff Sgt. Rick Jones said that although he would have come to watch the Capitals anyway, "It is great to bring awareness to civilians, especially with everything that is going on right now."

Spectators cheered as the video screen beamed messages from service members stationed stateside and overseas. Recruiting booths were set up and were receiving a lot of attention as well.

"This is awesome," said 8-year-old Matthew Keller from Arlington, Va. "I've been wanting to come to a hockey game for a long time, but my dad said that we would wait to come tonight." Then he ran off to see the pull-up display at the Marine Corps recruiting station.

Chris Kelly of Alexandria, Va., said the salute was particularly special to him because his brother, Alex, is in Iraq. "I am very proud of him and wish that he could be here to experience this," Kelly said. "I can't wait to tell him about it."

Many active, Reserve and National Guard units received tickets, and a suite was reserved for service members from nearby Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Army Spc. Harvey Naranjo, a therapist at Walter Reed, said the event was "definitely a morale booster."

"We see a lot of negative, so this is really appreciated," Naranjo said.

"It's not every day that you can be in a suite like this for free," said Army Pfc. Brandon Williams. "It's good to know that people care." Williams is with the 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, and is heading back to Iraq within a couple of weeks.

Kevin Morgan, Capitals vice president of sales, said he was very excited about the event. "We want to be part of the community, and the military is a huge part of it," Morgan said. He added that the Capitals would continue to honor the military every year.

Although Operation Tribute to Freedom officially ended Nov. 11, its message will be carried out by the services' Web sites, as well as through DoD's defendamerica.mil and dod.mil sites, officials said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe U.S. Army recruiting stand had a great turn out during "Salute to Military Night" at the Washington Capitals home game Nov. 12 against the Caroline Hurricanes. Photo by Jamie Reese  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Army service members from the Defense Department's Operation Tribute to Freedom office interview soldiers from Walter Reed following the Washington Capitals Nov. 12, 2003, Tribute to the armed services. Photo by Jamie Reese  
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