When Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik
takes the ice in the 2010 Olympic Men’s Hockey Gold Medal Game Sunday as a member of Team USA, he will not only be representing himself, his family and his country. Orpik will also be representing Pittsburgh native Staff Sergeant Shawn Barber.
Barber has been teamed with Orpik as a part of Operation Homefront – which has all 23 players on Team USA playing for and representing a soldier wounded in battle in Iraq or Afghanistan.
It's an honor. Brooks Orpik is a strong, tough, hard-nosed player that leads by example, and is solid at his position – which is how I try to lead. Growing up in Pittsburgh we pride ourselves on our toughness and hard work and I can't think of a better player to represent me, the city of Pittsburgh, or the United States. - Shawn Barber
“It's an honor,” Barber said. “Brooks Orpik
is a strong, tough, hard-nosed player that leads by example, and is solid at his position – which is how I try to lead. Growing up in Pittsburgh we pride ourselves on our toughness and hard work and I can't think of a better player to represent me, the city of Pittsburgh, or the United States.”
Service members paired with players of Team USA have the ability to feel connected to the Olympics and know that they are sharing a special connection when they see the players take the ice.
"These service members have fought and sacrificed for our country and in a lot of ways Team USA is doing the same thing at the 2010 Games," Carly Samuelson, Operation Homefront director of development and special events, told NHL.com. "It's this connection, along with the tokens and mementos given to the players that hopefully stick out in the minds of Team USA.
"We hope this has inspired the Team, and it serves as a reminder that there are so many people back home cheering for their success, including this group of 23 service members. It means so much to stand behind the strong group of hockey players on Team USA and know that not only are they fighting for a gold medal for our country, but are also playing with these 23 American heroes in mind. It is our hope that this pairing will give them an added push when they need it and propel them to medal success.”
Orpik received a few tokens of appreciation from Barber, including an Iraqi Shia head wrap, a shirt designed for children, some small tokens and a letter of encouragement.
But the most compelling item that Barber sent to Orpik was a few flags: an Iraqi flag that was given to him after he was wounded on Sept. 10, 2006; and two American flags that were on his uniform.
“I sent Brooks one of two Iraqi flags that were presented to me by a battalion of Iraqi soldiers I helped train just hours before I was wounded,” Barber said. “It flew over our base in Hadithah for a couple of days before it was given to me.
As for the two American flags, Barber said, “One I wore in 2008 on my last mission. The other was the one pulled off my uniform when I was wounded. My guys handed it to me when they were putting me on the medical evacuation helicopter. I always had it on me during my last two deployments for luck and to remember.”
And now those flags have traveled from Iraq to Vancouver with Orpik, so that he remembers the sacrifices that Barber and the thousands of American soldiers make by putting their lives on the line every day for their country.
Sunday, it will be Orpik’s – and the rest of Team USA’s – turn to fight for their country in their own way, by battling Canada for Olympic Gold.
Barber will watch the drama unfold with family and friends from his home in the Steel City.
“A couple of my friends are coming over and we will watch the game,” he said. “My one kid and I are excited to see Brooks put Sidney (Crosby) into the boards. My other son and wife are Crosby fans so they don’t want to see that at all, a house divided. Either way we will all be cheering for USA!”