As a former member of the Blue Jackets Ice Crew, April Elting has spent plenty of time on the ice during games at Nationwide Arena.
But the chance to be on it for the national anthem before the game was a unique -- and even more rewarding - experience for the Grandview Heights native.
Elting was the Elk & Elk Military Salute honoree before the Jan. 15 game vs. New Jersey, standing on the ice next to Leo Welsh as he performed the anthem and then being honored in the arena during a television timeout during the game.
Despite her familiarity to a game day at Nationwide Arena, Elting had never been on the ice for what has become a pregame tradition for the Blue Jackets. In her previous role, Elting would usually be back in a staging area during the national anthem.
"It was my first time seeing it and being a part of (the anthem)," said Elting, an A1C (Airman First Class) who has enlisted in the Air Force. "I was nervous being back in that capacity, but I was excited to be there. It kind of felt like coming home."
The return to Nationwide Arena was the brainchild of her father, David, a big fan of the sport and a longtime supporter of Ohio State hockey.
"He was like, 'Hey, guess what? I set this up for you,' and I was like 'Oh, good,'" Elting said. "It was all he was texting me about for two weeks."
So how did Elting go from skating around with an oversized shovel at Nationwide Arena to joining the Air Force?
A long history of service runs in the family, from both grandfathers - one in the Navy and one in the Army Air Corps - to an older brother and older sister in the Navy and Army, respectively. Having such connections to the armed forces showed Elting she had what it takes to be the next member of the family to serve.
After giving it a go in the sports field - in addition to her time with the Blue Jackets, she also worked with the Cincinnati Reds in promotions and working with the team's Urban Youth Academy - a full-time job in philanthropy or community relations never materialized. At that point, Elting sensed it was time to give service a try in November, 2017, so she enlisted in the Air Force while also picking up a job in strategic operations at NetJets thanks to her interest in aviation.
"It's something that I wanted to do since high school," she said. "I've always wanted to deploy and contribute in that way. I have to be doing something to help or I don't feel like I'm doing anything. When I found out our unit deploys regularly, I was like, 'This is where I want to be.'"
After graduating from boot camp in December with honors from Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas - "Honors is only 10 percent of the graduating class so that was pretty cool. I told everybody I would do it, so I did it," she said - she'll now spend six months in technical training for intelligence while also taking courses in intel at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
From there, Elting hopes she'll be able to deploy in 2020.
"I should be done with all my training and certifications by then," she said. "My job is intelligence. We have access to computer systems and information that other people don't in a deployment setting, so we're there to keep everybody briefed and informed and let them know what is going on as we monitor airspace. We're talking to our pilots and telling them what is going on around them."
That's still a couple of years down the road, while Elting's time with the Blue Jackets is a few years in the past. In between, both worlds collided when she was back in Nationwide Arena for the military salute, and it's a day Elting will remember for a long time.
"I saw tons of people," she said, "and then people I haven't talked to in forever were sending me texts like, 'Hey, I see you.' It was like, 'We haven't talked in years, how are you?' It was pretty cool. We had a great time."