By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class William Selby, Defense Media ActivityMarch 4, 2011
WASHINGTON, March 4, 2011 - The Washington Capitals NHL team and their majority owner, Ted Leonsis, hosted not only the St. Louis Blues at the Verizon Center here last night, but also service members and their families for the 8th Annual Military Appreciation Night.
"Military Night is one of my favorite nights," Leonsis said. "We've done our best to support every branch of the military."
Leonsis kicked off the event with a reception for active-duty military members and veterans. Other guests included Douglas B. Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs; Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., among others.
Wilson hosted several military children as part of the "Me and a Friend" program, which he created with the help of the USO last year. The program offers donated tickets to sporting events, shows, and other events to military children and a friend.
"There are ways to give back. There are ways to extend a hand of friendship and a sense of belonging to those who are serving our nation in uniform," Wilson said. "Whether it's inviting the son or daughter of someone whose mother or father is deployed overseas to a come to a barbecue, or go to movie, or attend a dance recital with your family, it's important to recognize the challenges that kids in military families sometimes face, and the need to want to feel normal and the need to want to belong."
Cartwright also expressed his appreciation to service members, their families, and the families of the fallen. Those families, he said, have made a tremendous sacrifice that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
"The fact that we are here as a nation, we have a moral obligation to ensure that we take care of them, and that we remember them," he added.
During the pregame reception and throughout the evening, there were several tributes to those who serve, including Army Sgt. Chelsey Billings, who was attending her first hockey game.
"It's amazing here and I'm very thankful for the opportunity," Billings said. "I just like the game -- it's very brute!"
When asked who she planned on rooting for, Billings gave the typical answer you'd hear at the Verizon Center: "C-A-P-S, Caps, Caps, Caps!"
Billings was one of four service members recognized during the game. Others were Marine Corps Maj. Stewart T. Upton, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Max Rohn, and Air Force Senior Airman Perry M. Aston.
Casey said it's important to have events like Military Appreciation Night to honor military members for their service and sacrifices on behalf of the nation.
"They're just representing all the other men and women they serve with," he said. "The important thing is, this is America saying, thank you to the men and women of the armed forces."
With all the tributes played, and the playing of the national anthem by the U.S. Army Chorus, the night would not be complete without the usual "W" in the win column from the Caps.
"We're 6-and1 on Military Night," Leonsis said, sparking a laugh from the guests. "I have to figure out a way to do this in the playoffs," he added.
Sure enough, the Caps pulled off the victory, beating the Blues 3-2, for their third-straight victory.