By David VergunNovember 4, 2016
WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- "We sense that all Americans are supporting us. We see it here, in airports and wherever we go. There's an overwhelming amount of love," Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley told Capitals hockey fans Thursday.
Milley spoke before the game against the Winnipeg Jets which ended with a 4-3 victory for the Caps during Army Appreciation Night. He also dropped the first puck and honored a Soldier returning from Afghanistan.
Having the Caps and the fans salute Soldiers, many of whom are deployed overseas, "is very meaningful to all of us in uniform. We appreciate being appreciated," he said.
During a game interview, the chief was asked if he could fill in for a Caps player just in case someone got injured. The chief responded that "hockey is one of those games you do all your life, you just strap them (skates) on and play."
The chief said players never forget the fundamentals, and the skills come back when returning to the ice. He joked that he was looking forward to playing a few pickup games later on.
While at his alma mater, Princeton University, Milley played defenseman for the Tigers, a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division hockey team. He said he had a shot at being drafted by the National Hockey League, but wasn't, "so I ended up in the Army."
During the opening ceremony, Milley showed his appreciation for Soldiers everywhere by honoring one of his own, a Soldier returning from a deployment to Qatar.
Sgt. Maria Calara confessed she was somewhat nervous meeting the chief, but once she did, "he seemed like a pretty normal person."
Calara admitted she didn't know the first thing about hockey, but was glad to be among Soldiers, including some from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall who participated in the opening ceremony.
With her for the occasion was her husband, Gerald Thomas, and their son Eli, 2. Thomas is an Army veteran. In 2014 he was wounded in Afghanistan and is now medically retired. Thomas and Calara were serving together in Afghanistan, albeit in separate units, when the injury occurred.
These days, Thomas said, it's pretty neat being a dependent, tagging along with his wife and son.
CIVILIANS SALUTE SOLDIERS
Many of the fans spoke highly of the Army and thought the Soldiers who attended added substance to the game.
Jane Owens, of Laytonville, Maryland, said her father served 22 years in the Air Force, including two tours in Vietnam. He was a fighter pilot. She said she's proud not just of him, but of everyone who has ever worn the uniform. Owens thought it was neat that Soldiers were participating in the Caps game.
Bob Kirchner, of Rockville, Maryland, said his father served as an Army surveyor just after World War II in West Germany, participating in the rebuilding of that nation. He died just two years ago. For him, having Soldiers at the Caps game was "deeply personal" and helped him to remember his dad. He felt his presence at the game.
Mark from Virginia -- he declined to provide his last name or hometown -- said his father, who is in his 90s, fought in the Battle of the Bulge with the 2nd Armored Division. Mark had asked his father about the battle, but his father never wanted to discuss it, except to say it was pretty cold.
Mark, like some of the other fans at the game with relatives in the Army, said their Soldier-kin didn't like to discuss what they did in the service; they were quiet professionals, not ones to brag of their exploits or the hardship they endured.
One Caps fan said he hoped Milley would visit more often. The chief had stopped by in February for a "Salute to the Military Night," and the Caps edged the Islanders 3-2 that evening. The fan thought the chief brought good luck.