By Lt. Col. Leela J. DawsonJanuary 9, 2007
The holidays are a special time for a lot of people around the world, but this past Christmas it had the additional meaning of special recognition from the National Football League's Miami Dolphins for family members of Army Reserve Soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
As the second half of Operation Santa Surprise, three families of Soldiers of the 723rd Main Support Company (Special Operations) were honored on the field at Dolphins Stadium Christmas night. The game against the Jets was nearly a sold-out Monday Night Football game despite the often pouring rain.
More than 50,000 drenched NFL fans cheered after watching video on the jumbotrons of the first part of Operation Santa Surprise that reunited Soldiers and their families via satellite and Miami's NBC6 earlier in the month at the Dolphins training facility.
The first half happened December 5 when families toured the Miami Dolphins training facility, met players, staff and cheerleaders and were then honored by their Soldiers through the Army's Freedom Team Salute program.
The Soldiers nominated their spouses and parents for an Army Freedom Team Salute commendation for their support. Soldiers submitted their nominations directly to a FTS Ambassador for the special occasion but all soldiers can submit directly through www.freedomteamsalute.com.
Following the tour and meetings, the Dolphins hosted the Freedom Team Salute commendations which provided the introduction for the main surprise - a live link-up with their loved ones in Afghanistan. The parents and spouses were ecstatic and the players, cheerleaders and staff were noticeably touched when they saw the Soldiers on the training room's large screen.
Dolphin's linebackers Zach Thomas and Channing Crowder both commented how honored they were to be doing something special for the families and thanked the Soldiers for their service and sacrifices.
"Many Soldiers are very young and may not realize how much this FTS could mean to their families," said Tina Ognibene, wife of Sgt. John Ognibene. "When I heard my husband nominated me, I was very deeply touched. This was an acknowledgment of the sacrifices I make to support him. I truly believe every soldier should recognize a loved one or an employer through FTS for what they do to support their military career."
After the game, the families thanked the Dolphins and the Army for bringing together this special opportunity.
Doreen Vargas, mother of Sgt. David Vargas said, "I was proud to be the mother of someone who is dedicated to serving our country and seeing him on the big screen during the Dolphins game made my heart swell with pride."
"I have the certificate hanging in my office and proudly tell everyone who asks me about it, that my husband nominated me and the Miami Dolphins made it possible for me to see my husband while he's thousands of miles away in Afghanistan," said Ognibene. "It was an experience I will never forget and cherish for the rest of my life."
Sgt 1st Class Norman Ferguson said, "These deployed warriors will not forget the recognition given them and their families and it demonstrates the community's commitment to support the United States Army Reserve citizen warriors."
Established in Miami as one of two Army Reserve companies in January 2003, the 723d MSC, then known as Foxtrot Main Support Company provided direct support to the 528th Support Battalion (Special Operations) an active duty unit at Ft. Bragg, N.C., that traced its lineage to WWII. The battalion was deactivated in 2005. Later that year, Foxtrot was re-designated as the 723rd Main Support Company (Airborne).
The 723rd MSC is a unique reserve unit that provides direct support to an active duty unit with a mission of providing combat service support, level II augmented combat health support, limited engineer construction support, mortuary affairs, and aerial delivery support (parachute riggers) to support Army Special Operations Forces worldwide.