The Wisconsin National Guard and veterans of all services were the champions in Green Bay Monday night (Nov. 14) when
the Green Bay Packers and more
than 73,000 football fans honored their service as part of the
annual Military Appreciation
Night in conjunction with Veterans Day.
"It was just such an awesome experience," said Wisconsin Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Kristine Rupp, of Franklin, the Milwaukee-based 128th Refueling Wing's Airman of the Year and one of the service members honored during the game.
The night's festivities began with country western duo Steel Magnolia singing the national anthem as service members and Veterans unfurled a giant U.S. flag across the playing field. Fans joined in by holding up placards that depicted the stars and stripes and spelled out "Thank You, Military" and "Thank You, Veterans."
Rupp, a self-described "big time" Packers fan, was on the field during the national anthem and held open an enormous American Flag. "Nothing will top that, and I'm very appreciative that [my supervisors] asked me to participate," she said.
The honors continued at halftime, when the Wisconsin National Guard's 132nd Army Band took the field. Fans cheered as the 132nd performed each military service song, while representatives from each branch of the armed forces held aloft large fabric stars emblazoned with the seal of each branch — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. The band's rendition of "God Bless America" concluded with a fireworks display, prompting chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" from the crowd at Lambeau Field.
In addition to paying honor to men and women in uniform, past and present, the event is part of an ongoing partnership between the Wisconsin National Guard and the Green Bay Packers, highlighting a strong relationship between Wisconsin's hometown Soldiers and Airmen and the hometown team.
"Like the Wisconsin National Guard, the Green Bay Packers are a community-owned and community-backed organization," said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, and commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard. "We are two great teams at the top of their game, with unique connections to the American public, working together. "
Monday night's tribute was the third annual Veterans Day tribute, and organizers say it keeps getting better.
"This year there wasn't one signature moment, but instead there were a number of different, moving parts and the sum of those parts all added up to a success," Aaron Hart, a corporate sales executive with the Packers and one of the night's many organizers, stated in a Green Bay Packers release. Oshkosh Defense, Wisconsin Physicians Service and USAA also assisted with the event.
"At Oshkosh Defense, we are inspired by the brave men and women who serve and protect our nation," said John Urias, Oshkosh Corporation executive vice president and president of Oshkosh Defense. "We're honored to join the Green Bay Packers, the Wisconsin National Guard and football fans worldwide in thanking every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine and Guardsman for their service, commitment and sacrifice."
The fans at Lambeau Field also showed the same gratitude. Service members and veterans were met with enthusiastic applause and well wishes as they walked out the entrance tunnel on onto the field. In some instances, the game on the field took a back seat to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen.
"They started cheering as soon as they saw us," Rupp said. "It was amazing how many people thanked us."
"They all wanted to shake our hands," said Sgt. Brandon Swanson of Menomonee, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's noncommissioned officer of the year. "They were almost falling out of their seats and over the guardrails to shake our hands. It was awesome — it was a once-in-a-lifetime night."
Swanson had never been to Lambeau Field or seen a Packers game in Green Bay — he's seen them play at the Metrodome previously — and he said that the fans' reception made the night even more memorable.
"I'd never had the full 'Lambeau Experience,'" he said.
That experience included a perfect ending for Packers fans in and out of uniform when the hometown team beat the Minnesota Vikings.
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A fireworks show concludes the halftime ceremony at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., during a Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. The Wisconsin National Guard's 132nd Army Band performed at halftime, part of the Packers' salute to the military in recognition of Veterans Day. Wisconsin National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Nathan Wallin
Football fans reach over the guardrail at Lambeau Field to shake hands and offer thanks to Wisconsin National Guard service members. The Guard members were at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., to participate in the Packers' salute to the military in recognition of Veterans Day. Wisconsin National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Tom Sobczyk
Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and Airmen hold an enormous U.S. flag during the national anthem prior to the Green Bay Packers' Monday Night Football game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field Nov. 14. The sellout crowd held placards that spelled out the messages "Thank You, Military" and "Thank You, Veterans" as part of the Packers' salute to the military in recognition of Veterans Day. Wisconsin National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Tom Sobczyk
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway poses for a photo with Wisconsin Air National Guardsmen Tech. Sgt. Tom Sobczyk and Maj. Scott Lieburn prior to Monday night's game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Greenway interrupted his pre-game warmups to jog over and greet Sobczyk and Lieburn, shake their hands and offer his thanks for their service. The Guard members were at Lambeau Field to participate in the Packers' salute to the military in recognition of Veterans Day. Wisconsin National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Nathan Wallin