GREEN BAY, Wis. - For 10 family members of deployed Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers, it may have been the next best thing to being there.
Standing on Lambeau Field, home of the National Football League's Green Bay Packers, the family members saw their loved ones on the stadium jumbotron screens, sending a live videoconference from Afghanistan as part of the Packers' "Salute to Service" game Nov. 9.
"Hey, Packers fans," said Spc. Alex Wotachek of Battery A, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery. "We cheeseheads are here cheering on the Packers tonight from half a world away."
Battery A, a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) unit, is only the second National Guard field artillery unit to perform a field artillery support mission in Afghanistan.
"In the military, we have a tradition where the leader of a unit sounds off with a motto or phrase and the unit responds," said Pfc. Joshua Oakley, also of Battery A. "Tonight we want you to join us in that proud tradition."
The members of Battery A shouted, "Lambeau!" and more than 80,000 fans at Lambeau Field responded with, "Go Pack Go!" The call and response was repeated three more times, with quite satisfactory results.
Work on this short but emotional exchange began more than a month ago, when the Green Bay Packers reached out to the Army seeking to set up a live videoconference with a deployed Wisconsin National Guard unit as part of its Nov. 9 "Salute to Service" game. The Packers donated 10 game tickets, and Battery A's Family Readiness Group selected five family members by raffle. The lucky family members were allowed to bring one guest on-field.
Katie Haberman was one of the lucky family members.
"It was a once in a lifetime experience," she said. "The feed from the guys was a little blurry, but just to see them happy and jumping around was a wonderful feeling."
Kandi Goltz, game and fan development manager for the Green Bay Packers, said the videoconference offered the team and fans a chance to thank service members.
"It's important to the Packers and our fans to be able to express our gratitude for their service - not only on Veterans Day, but all year long," she said. "It was phenomenal to see our fans respond to the military members on the screen and share some of the gameday excitement with them."
Also as part of the "Salute to Service" game, fans could sign holiday cards that the American Red Cross will send to service members at home and abroad. Fans also were part of an in-stadium card stunt that turned the stadium into a patriotic billboard, with the messages "Thank you military," "Thank you veterans," and "Land of the free, home of the brave." A U.S. Marine surprised his wife on-field before the game, and the connection between the USS Green Bay and Lambeau Field was featured on NBC's "Sunday Night Football."
"Thank you for your love and support, Packers fans," Wotachek said. "We'll be home soon. Go Pack!"