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Wings salute the armed forces

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings
Justin Abdelkader and the Red Wings wore camouflage jerseys during warm-ups as part of Military Appreciation Night before Friday's game against the New Jersey Devils. The uniforms will be auctioned off and the proceeds will go towards Help For Our Disabled Troops. (Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT — Sitting in the penalty box isn’t such a bad thing, according to Cassandra Wildey.

Before Friday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils, Wildey and her fiancé Chris Searcey — former members of the U.S. Navy — got to watch the teams during warm-ups from ice level in the penalty box as part of Military Appreciation Night at Joe Louis Arena.

“This is incredible,” Wildey said. “The Red Wings have always been my favorite team. To actually be able to sit out on the ice while they’re warming up. The whole environment, for them to provide this for all the veterans. It’s an incredible experience, I feel honored.”

Wildey, 26, is a Lowell, Michigan native and served in the Navy as a hospital corpsman. It was there where she met Searcey, 27, of Redding, California, who served as an air crewman rescue swimmer.

Saturday will mark five years together as a couple but Wildey — a lifelong Wings fan — said that the experience at The Joe was a great way to celebrate their anniversary early.

“It’s huge for me,” she said. “There’s nothing that’s going to be able to top it.”

Searcey and Wildey were just two of several military members honored during the game. Fans got the chance to acknowledge troops in a more personal way by signing the “Support Our Troops” banner that hung outside of section 112 in the arena concourse.

The eight-feet-wide banner had been signed by the entire 2014-15 team and reads “The Detroit Red Wings Support Our Troops.” The Wings will send the team-signed and fan-signed banner to the 171st Air Refueling Squadron, a Michigan-based military unit stationed overseas.

It was important to Debbie Jagow to leave her mark on the banner. Jagow, a native of Troy, Mich., said her father served in the Marine Corps, giving her a unique appreciation for servicemen and women.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Jagow said. “I hope it lightens their spirits. I hope it makes them smile and think that there’s people at home that are supporting them and loving them and are there for them.”

The Wings wore camouflage jerseys during warm-ups that will be auctioned off at with the proceeds going toward Help For Our Disabled Troops. Additionally, a merchandise clearance sale ran outside of section 126 on the concourse. The sale featured autographed sticks and pucks from former players like Chris Osgood and Nicklas Lidstrom as well as current players Danny DeKeyser and Henrik Zetterberg. All of the proceeds raised from the clearance sale will also benefit Help For Our Disabled Troops.

Forward Justin Abdelkader said, “Being an American, honoring our military here in this country and what they do for us and for the rest of the world can’t ever be forgotten. Those guys are the heroes of all the American people and we look up to those guys. They put their lives on the line each and every day to fight for our country and for our freedom. Any time we can honor them and what they do its really special for us.”

During the game, volunteers from Blue Star Mothers of America Chapter 180 collected care package items and monetary donations at each entrance of the arena. They will take the items collected on Friday and assemble care packages for homeless veterans at the VA Domiciliary in Detroit and the VA in Iron Mountain, Michigan. Monetary donations from the game will help cover the cost of shipping the care packages to Iron Mountain, along with covering the cost for purchasing additional care package items.

“We wouldn’t live the lives we do without the opportunity that the military provides us,” coach Mike Babcock said. “There are things going on around the world and things going on right here in the U.S. and Canada and without their protection there would be a lot more. Obviously there are way more things going on around the world and not at home because we do have the kind of military that we do.”

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