Army celebrates New Year at National Hockey League Winter Classic in D.C.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Army helped ring in the New Year with a much-anticipated event – a National Hockey League game that honored the nation’s military during pre- and in-game festivities.

As the crowd cheered, soldiers, airmen, coast guardsmen, marines and sailors took to the field for a pre-game military salute, during the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Nationals Park, Jan. 1, in Washington, D.C.

The service members stood at attention as the Army Chorus, from The United States Army Band, "Pershing’s Own," and the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), performed the national anthem.

The Armed Forces Color Guard proudly displayed the national flag and the flags of each service.

On the ice behind them, players from area military and law enforcement hockey teams unfurled a 120-by-65-foot U.S. flag.

Each military service sent a group of members to participate in the pre-game activities. The Army was represented by active, U.S. Army Reserve, and National Guard soldiers.

Thrilling the crowd, the D.C. Air National Guard, 113th Wing, performed a flyover in two F-16 Fighting Falcons.

During a break in the game, the Army Chorus hit another high note with the crowd, performing the service song for each military branch while service members stood to be recognized in the stands (See photo on page 23).

The Chorus was also joined by recording artist Lee Greenwood who sang "God Bless the USA."

Cheers for the military came from the tens of thousands of spectators who spent the first day of 2015 rooting for the Washington Capitals or the Chicago Blackhawks.

"Regardless of what service you’re in ... I don’t think anything can quite make you feel better than when your fellow citizens are out there cheering for you and saying ‘Thank you for your service,’" said Maj. Thomas Mehl, Army National Guard Bureau.

Service to the nation

Gen. Mark A. Milley, commander, U.S. Army Forces Command, escorted two soldiers to the game – Master Sgt. John R. Stricklett, 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives, and Staff Sgt. Brandon J. Mahoney, 55th Explosive Ordnance Disposal.

The soldiers were recognized during the game’s second period as the "GEICO Heroes of the Game."

Stricklett was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor in 2007 for defending and rendering aid to wounded service members during a complex insurgent attack in southern Baghdad.

He was awarded a Purple Heart in 2005 for wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was evacuating fellow service members in Taji, Iraq; and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with Valor in 2003 for deactivating one of the first IEDs identified in Iraq.

Mahoney was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with Valor for actions taken in 2010 during a complex insurgent attack on a forward operating base in Gardez, Afghanistan.

Responding to the sound of gunfire and the detonation of a large IED that damaged the compound’s outer wall, Mahoney ran to a guard tower while under sustained enemy fire and engaged insurgent forces with a light machine gun from the tower, preventing the enemy from entering further into the base.

Standing watch 24/7

It was a privilege and an honor to participate in the NHL Winter Classic that honored all military branches, said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Stephen P. Metruck, commander of the Fifth Coast Guard District.

The event was a great way to interact with the American people, he said. It was also an opportunity to pay tribute to those who are serving the nation around the clock, at home and abroad.

"We just have to keep in mind all those who are standing the watch around the world, and all the military services that are deployed around the world, putting their life on the line every day to protect everyone else in the nation," he said.

Home team wins

The sun was shining, but it was still cold in Washington for this year’s Winter Classic. Fans bundled up for the annual event, which is held on or around a stadium on a specially built ice rink.

In the sold-out game that welcomed more than 42,000 people in attendance, the home team – the Capitals – scored a goal with seconds left in the game to emerge victorious, 3-2, over the Blackhawks.

(Editor’s note: This story is based on an article by Lisa Ferdinandino, Army News Service.)