By Capt. Scott WaltersFebruary 7, 2017
CAMP KARLIKI, Poland -- As Spc. Erik Guerrero stepped into the giant virtual reality pod inside a quiet tank maintenance bay 50 yards away from where a raucous Super Bowl party was going on, he had no idea what to expect.
What he found inside was more than just an immersive virtual reality experience that simulated attending the big game. It was an unexpected family memory of a lifetime -- because, even though he sat in a chair in Poland, he was sharing a row with his family at the big game in Houston.
In his chair, Guerrero was surrounded by 360 degrees of giant screens. The lights went dark for 30 seconds. Then, as the screens lit up, he found himself staring down at the game from a luxury box at NRG Stadium. Yet as he turned to his side, an even better view awaited him.
"I thought it was going to be a pretty cool Super Bowl virtual-reality experience, like I'm there," recalled Guerrero, an M1 armor crewman with Company C, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment. "But as soon as I saw my wife Dannielle, my son Liam, and my parents to my side, I just broke down in tears."
"I was asking the camera guy, 'Can they see me? Can they hear me?'" he added. "It was one of the best experiences of my life."
Along with Guerrero, two other Soldiers from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, also took virtual trips in separate pods. All were surprised to find their family members at the game courtesy of Hyundai, which filmed the unexpected reunions for a 90-second advertisement honoring service members deployed overseas.
The 3rd ABCT from Fort Carson, Colorado, is deployed to Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve as the first heavy brigade to kick off continuous "heel to toe" nine-month rotations for armored brigades to central and eastern Europe.
Cpl. Trista Strauch, an Abrams tank system maintainer, also with Company C, was shocked to find her husband, Joseph, three children and brother Kane at the Super Bowl.
"I was just overwhelmed with emotion. I definitely cried," she said. "I was just really excited to see them. This is something we've never experienced before, and I'm super excited they get to be there for it."
The ad aired on Fox immediately following the New England Patriots' dramatic come-from-behind win over the Atlanta Falcons in overtime of Super Bowl LI. A day after the game, another 5 million people had watched it on YouTube.
For Sgt. Richard Morrill, a mechanized infantryman with 1-8 Infantry Regiment, the VR experience was an unexpected chance to see his wife, Emily, and 4-year-old daughter Hadley. He said it felt like he could almost reach out and touch them.
"I got to talk them about what's happening over here, what's happening at home and how their experience was getting down to the Super Bowl," Morrill said. "It's unreal. Me and my wife have been talking about getting tickets for two years now, and she got them to the biggest game of the year."
The virtual reunion experience was filmed during the first half of the game. The production team from FILM45 then quickly transformed the footage during the second half into the commercial directed by Peter Berg, whose movie credits include "Lone Survivor" and "Friday Night Lights."
The production company also filmed scenes for the commercial in the adjacent maintenance bay at the Polish Camp Karliki, where hundreds of Soldiers from 1-8 Infantry Regiment watched the Super Bowl at a viewing party fully catered by Hyundai. Many Soldiers watched the game projected on a big screen from atop their tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
Lt. Col. Jason Sabat, 1-8 Infantry Regiment battalion commander, said that in his 25 years of service, he had never seen anything like it.
"It's hard for me to put into words what I'm seeing right now, but there's been absolutely no expense spared," Sabat said. "These Soldiers are truly experiencing the Super Bowl like never before, probably better than what they would be experiencing back home, so it's just an awesome event."
Following the game, many of the Soldiers moved straight to a nearby railhead to begin loading their tanks and other support vehicles onto trains bound for Romania and Bulgaria.
Guerrero was already looking forward to the next surprises he may encounter during a deployment that calls upon the Iron Brigade to serve as a deterrent against aggression in eight countries.
"I'm just looking forward to wherever they take me to and experience a whole new country," Guerrero said. "We worked alongside Polish tankers during a live-fire exhibition, so I hope I get to work alongside Romanian tankers to see what they do."