When more than 18,000 people cram into an arena to watch a Minnesota Wild game, there are bound to be a few "hot spots" that flare up in the arena. We're not talking about a skirmish on the ice; we're talking about a problem in the stands. Whether it is the guy who has had a few too many drinks, or the kid who gets separated from his parents, problems do arise. It happens in every rink, stadium and field.
Fortunately for Wild fans, when problems arose at the Xcel Energy Center, there has always been the perfect man to resolve them, Jason Duffy. Whoever had an issue usually forgot about it and walked away with a smile after dealing with Duffy.
For 10 years, the always happy, always personable, always-helpful St. Paul native has seen it all in the arena. He started out as a part-time janitor, and climbed up to his current position as the Manager of Guest Services for Minnesota Sports & Entertainment, where he provides ushering, ticket taking and fan services for Xcel, RiverCentre and the Legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium. Basically, any service that you may have needed at the arena, Duffy probably had a hand in providing it. That’s some heavy duty with 18,500 people milling around.
On Monday, October 17, Duffy was in a third grade classroom at Hancock-Hamline Elementary School in St. Paul, where he mentors young students. While helping one child to read, he received a call on his cell phone. It was the call he had been waiting to get for 11 years.
On the other end of the line was a representative from the United States military. He informed Duffy that on November 1, he would be called into action to represent the United States Army National Guard. In just two weeks, Duffy would be boarding a plane to Mississippi for two months of military training, before being shipped off to parts unknown, most likely, the Middle East.
While holding the phone to his ear, shivers ran down the 28-year-old's spine, as his brain was flooded with thoughts of his wife, Ronda, and 20-month-old daughter, Paige.
"It was the big chill," said Duffy, as he tied up loose ends at work and prepared for a week of family time. "You don't think about yourself at all. You immediately start thinking about everybody else. You think about your wife, your child, your brothers, your sisters, and your parents."
Duffy and his family knew this day was coming since he was 17. It was then that he volunteered to join the National Guard, fulfilling his destiny as a descendant of war veterans.
"My grandfather was in World War II. My father was in Vietnam. The military has always been a part of my life," he explained. "And the way the military started gearing itself, especially in the nineties, towards school, it just seemed like the perfect out for an East Side kid from St. Paul.
But the other reason was patriotism. I'm a big believer in America. So it worked. It was a good equation."
Because he registered for the National Guard, Duffy was able to continue his pursuit of a professional life, and a personal life.
He became a "92 Alpha," meaning that he is a supply Sergeant classified to handle the transfer of clothing, armor, boots and food/oil/and automobile parts.
"Basically, I'm kind of like 'Radar' on M.A.S.H., but hopefully I'll look cooler," he joked.
As far as individual duties and tasks are concerned, Duffy won't find out until he gets much closer to the flight over to the Middle East, or wherever his destination may be. His two months of training in Mississippi serve to review military tactics and technical maneuvers.
"It's to make sure we have that military bearing of 'no assumptions,' 'stay on guard at all times,' that type of thing," he described. "There are so many forms that the military uses, processes that are completely different than the civilian world. You've got to get in that mindset."
Duffy has no idea where he is headed, and neither does his family. It won't be until he boards a plane headed out of the United States, that he is informed of his destination.
"We won't know where we are going until we're at the point of no return. They don't want any information to get out that could affect a unit as its flying over somewhere, and someone gets the information and thinks, 'Oh, all of these supplies are going to a certain point? Maybe I'll bomb that area.' So we won't know where we are going."
If it sounds like serious stuff, it is. But that's why there is nobody better to take on his upcoming mission. Always prepared to handle any situation, Duffy is never rattled and always has a joke on hand to diffuse a situation. His fan relation's staff looks up to him and hangs on every word.
"Jason is a leader, plain and simple," said Guest Services Manager Rob Armstrong, Duffy's right hand man. "Everyone listens to him, everyone respects him, and he respects everybody. I've never seen him get angry or frazzled. He's the perfect guy to represent the United States."
Duffy doesn't give off a hint of nervousness or anxiety when he discusses his duty. He referred to it as "a big adventure" in front of that same classroom full of 10 and 11-year-olds at Hancock. This is his chance to do what he felt has been what he was put on this earth to do.
"I'm extremely proud to have the opportunity to represent our country, and I know I'll do well. I know I'll give it my all to represent Minnesota. As a soldier, you meet soldiers from Georgia to California. Everyone brings their own character, and that's when you can represent your state."
Despite his excitement, he does have two obvious worries. Their names are Ronda and Paige.
"My only worry is my family. We've all heard about the 12 steps. I think Ronda's still at step one, the denial stage, but she knows (my departure) is coming on November 1st. It will probably get harder as that day gets closer."
What makes it harder for the Duffy family is the unknown. Where will he be going? When will he be home? What will he be doing? The answers will come with time, but they do know that there is always a chance that Duffy gets called to action.
A friend of Duffy's, who held the same position as a supply Sergeant, was assigned to convoy security, meaning that for 18 months he would lead convoys in armored Humvees. As a Sergeant, Duffy could be assigned to lead a group of soldiers into enemy territory
"They train us, and prepare us, and it's one of the greatest things a soldier can do, leading troops into combat."
And Jason is one of the best people, to lead those troops into combat.
Just ask any one of the people he has helped at the Xcel Energy Center.