It was Military Appreciation Night – on both Veterans Day (USA) and Remembrance Day (Canada) – in Detroit. The Wings thanked dozens of military members with an in-game recognition and birds-eye-view seats in the JLA suites.
“The ovation was fantastic,” said Brian Amara, a Chesterfield, Michigan, native and member of the Michigan Air National Guard. “It’s pretty humbling too. I don’t really see that it’s for me, I see that it’s for everybody. Every veteran should have a standing ovation.
“It’s pretty awesome, the support we get from the local community. This is home and everyone makes it feel like home.”
The appreciation from the crowd didn’t stop at just applause – thousands of fans brought care package items to the rink for the Wings to send out to current military members deployed overseas. Items ranging from shampoo to playing cards were collected and will be shipped to soldiers fighting thousands of miles away from home.
For Holly Fabian, a volunteer with Blue Star Mothers of America and the sister of a current solider overseas, the importance of each donated item meant more than just the material collected.
“The soldiers love everything they get,” she said. “There’s so much stuff they don’t have or they can’t get that’s needed, and every time they get something that is a voice from home, it means so much to them. Some soldiers have nobody, so making sure they’re remembered, that means the whole world to those boys and girls over there.”
The Wings also hosted a “merchandise fire sale” on the JLA concourse, where fans had the opportunity to buy autographed and game-used items from former Wings' players. Every dollar raised went directly to the purchase of the Operation USO Care Package Program. For every $25 the initiative brought in, the United Service Organiztion is able to send out a care package to a solider overseas.
Raymond Bennett, a Wings' season ticket holder, made sure to come out as soon as gates opened to lock up a game-used Dominik Hasek jersey and a Dallas Drake autographed stick.
“I’m a big collector and one of the things that I’ve always wanted was a Hasek jersey – game worn and signed,” he said while grinning at the bag that held his new sweater. “It’s going to be hanging right next to my Nicklas Lidstrom
one. It’s probably going to be worth a lot of money, but to me it’s priceless.”
When told that the $475 he spent on the items was good enough to send 19 care packages to American troops, the Lincoln Park, Mich., native was even more excited about his new collector’s items.
“Now that’s something that I was not aware of,” he said. “It makes me feel good. I’m proud of what we get here because of those guys overseas taking care of business and protecting us back here. To give them something for my gratitude, it’s unbelievable, it’s really surreal to tell you the truth.”
With over 2,000 items collected and more than $10,000 raised through donations and the 50/50 raffle, the Wings far exceeded expectations on Military Appreciation Night. As the holiday season rolls around, the Wings have another win, Raymond Bennett has his much-desired jersey, and countless of soldiers overseas will have gifts from supporters back home.