Senior Airman Kimball Pugh presented a Penguins flag, which he flew over his compound during his first deployment in Afghanistan, to the organization during a ceremony in the locker room on Tuesday – and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo surprised him with a personalized camouflage jersey of his own.
|Robert Bortuzzo presented Kimball with a personalized camo jersey |
Pugh, a Pittsburgh native and avid hockey fan, said he carried the flag with him throughout his six-month deployment in Camp Bastion, the main British military base in Afghanistan.
Pugh said following his beloved Penguins helped him get through his deployment and gave him and the other men and women there something to talk about during the long days and nights overseas.
“I know you guys think we do a lot for you, but you guys do just as much for us,” Pugh said. “Win or lose, it builds our day. I’d wake up and it’d be the first thing I check. If they won, my day was set.”
The 22-year-old soldier was born and raised in the Hill District, and left Pittsburgh for the first time a few years ago after he joined the military and was stationed at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. But moving hasn’t affected Pugh’s loyalty as a fan whatsoever.
In addition to the flying the Penguins flag, Pugh also supported his hometown team by wearing an Evgeni Malkin jersey on game days.
“I love Malkin,” Pugh said. “I just like his demeanor, his energy. He’s like me. He’s real goofy. Watching his interviews, he’s always messing around with somebody. But obviously Robert Bortuzzo now, he’s high on the list too. I wasn’t really expecting to meet anybody, I just wanted to come and drop off the flag. I wasn’t expecting that. It was a nice surprise.”
Pugh was able to watch some Penguins games that were broadcasted in Afghanistan, but he mostly followed the team by checking scores and updates on the NHL GameCenter App and the Penguins mobile app.
“Being over there with nothing really to look forward to, except for going home, you look to sports. It’s really big over there,” Pugh said. “I was actually sent over there with a Blackhawks fan. We kind of went at it a lot with who’s better, the Blackhawks or the Penguins. I always had an argument for him, even when we lost.”
Pugh has been in the military for almost three years, and returned from his first-ever deployment in Afghanistan a few weeks ago. He is currently enjoying his time off in Pittsburgh with family and friends. Pugh said he plans to frame the jersey and show it off to everyone, including his friend the Blackhawks fan.
“I was speechless, to be honest,” said Pugh of being presented with the custom sweater. “I didn’t know what to say. I have a couple of Pens jerseys, but obviously this is my biggest one. It means a lot, especially growing up and loving hockey and having it to look forward to when I was overseas. That’s huge for me.”
Senior Airman Kimball Pugh (left) proudly displaying his Penguins flag in Afghanistan
Pugh playing ball hockey in the compound with his fellow soldiers
( Thanks to Kimball for the above photos!)