By Julie Smith, Northwest GuardianNovember 17, 2011
SEATTLE -- When the SeaGals decided last year to wear combat boots as part of their uniform for the Seattle Seahawks' Military Appreciation Day, Tifny Regan knew it would be an emotional game for her. When she opened the box containing a new pair of combat boots, Regan gasped in surprise.
"I had never seen a pair of combat boots that clean before," Regan said, knowing that her brother's boots were covered with dirt, mud, sand and even blood after his deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Even though the SeaGals didn't add any military attire to their uniforms for this year's Military Appreciation Day, celebrated Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Regan still felt a strong connection to the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard Soldiers being honored that day.
Not only her brother, who joined the Army immediately after Sept. 11, but her father and grandfather were also career military men, fighting in Vietnam and Korea.
"It makes me feel so honored to have them as part of my Family," Regan said.
This year, 52,500 Seahawks fans themselves acted like cheerleaders, but for the South Sound military community. Army and Air Force ROTC cadets from the University of Washington had orchestrated segments of the crowd holding up colored cards in a stadiumwide design that spelled out "thank you veterans" and "thank you military" during the singing of the National Anthem.
Performing the anthem was Staff Sgt. Angie Johnson, an Air Force band member. She became an Internet sensation after a Youtube video was posted of her impromptu acoustic performance of Adele's "Rolling In The Deep." Johnson and the Air National Guard band, Sidewinders, deploy to southwest Asia and the Middle East to perform morale shows for troops. Sunday was Johnson's first time singing live in front of such a huge crowd.
"I feel so honored to even be asked. There is so much energy. It's incredible," Johnson said, after coming off the field.
Standing next to her during the song was Army Sgt. Richard Vreeland and his service dog, Jade. Vreeland, attached to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, worried that the deafening crowd noise might push his post-traumatic stress to the limit. Nevertheless, he said he felt privileged to be at the game to represent wounded warriors.
Continuing the day's military theme, the 12th Man flag was raised over the stadium by George Hickman, one of six known living Tuskegee Airman who is employed as a game-day staff member at CenturyLink Field. Hickman, a Congressional Gold Medal awardee, called his task Sunday an "outstanding honor."
The Seahawks were led onto the field by Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Giertz, a reservist with the 301st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. Giertz received a Soldier's Medal in 2009 for saving a 5-year-old boy during a house fire. He injured himself breaking through a window of a burning house to rescue the child. Giertz also volunteers his time as the color guard coordinator for the Seahawks, recently receiving a Volunteer Service Medal. As a die-hard fan, Giertz said leading the team onto the field while waving an American flag was a dream come true.
Regan believed the thrill of game day would be even greater given the symbolic nature of the afternoon. She confessed how silly it seemed to be standing on the sideline waving her pom-poms while military personnel around the globe could be fighting for their lives at exactly the same moment.
"But for me, it's about internal spirit," Regan said. "Whether you're waving your pom-poms or whether you love your country, spirit is spirit -- no matter what."
Seahawks upset Ravens
The military pre-game ceremonies appeared to inspire the hometown Seahawks, who upset the Baltimore Ravens 22-17.
The Hawks mounted an early lead in the first quarter, with a touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch. A field goal, set up with the help of a fumble by Ravens' kick returner David Reed, put the Seahawks up 10-0. By halftime, the Seahawks were holding a 12-point lead.
Even though Baltimore rallied late in the game, the Ravens couldn't overcome the deficit. Seattle prevailed primarily on the powerful legs of Lynch, who had 167 combined rushing and receiving yards. Kicker Steven Hauschka made a record-tying five field goals, and altogether scored 16 of the Seahawks' 22 points.
The Seahawks also credit the help of the estimated 30,000 military fans attending the game. Seahawks' wide receiver Deon Butler made it his mission Sunday to thank troops on the playing field watching pre-game practice before heading to the locker room to suit up for the game.
"It's just a show of respect, because obviously we enjoy all of what we enjoy basically because they're over there doing the real work -- fighting for our freedom," Butler said.