|Marine Gunnery Sgt. Palarino tries for a touchdown toss under the watchful eye of Bobby Foschia, Steeler Experience worker, during "Heroes at Heinz Field Day" In Pittsburgh.|
How would you like to meet some of your favorite pro football stars?
No, wait. How would you like to hang out with them for a while, throw a few passes, kick a few field goals? Wouldn't that be cool?
That's exactly what 76 Veterans did, thanks to the VA Medical Centers in western Pennsylvania.
This past September, for the second year in a row, a unique partnership between the VA and the Pittsburgh Steelers, called "Heroes at Heinz Field," gave Veterans in Pennsylvania that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The occasion gave Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans a chance to visit with 10 Steelers stars, toss footballs, kick field goals and catch passes. The pros offered encouragement and expert tips to the Veterans, some of whom were more than a little nervous in meeting some of their gridiron heroes.
"Having a blast!"
Amy Patterson and her husband, both Desert Storm disabled Veterans who receive treatment at the VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia, summed up the day for most of the Veterans, saying, "I think we're still in shock that we're standing here on Heinz Field. We're thrilled that the VA gave us this opportunity, that the Steelers are doing this. It's a dream come true for us and our sons. We're a huge football family, huge Steelers fans, and the boys are just having a blast!"
Doug Legursky, part of the Steelers offensive line, spoke for the players: "It's great to give back to the people that have helped our country, that have sacrificed so much just so we can play the game that we love. It feels amazing. It's awesome that they have such a good time while they're out here."
Jessica Lynch, the Army PFC who was held hostage when the conflict in Iraq began, also tried out her skills tossing the football. She enjoyed the experience and got autographs for herself and a few others for back home as well.
"It's an honor to have been invited here and be a part of it," said Lynch. "It's a lot of fun. It's nice to do events like this where we are appreciated."
|Doug Legursky (center), Steeler offensive line, was happy to "give back" and to these Veterans.|
Steeler Says Veterans Inspirational
Steeler running back Mewelde Moore, with family and friends in the military, considered it an honor to take part in the event and was amazed at the attitude of the veterans.
"It's unbelievable to see their strength," said Moore. "It's one of those things you get stronger from. You see how strong they are, their willpower. It's inspirational. You want to continue to do better in everything you do because you see such great things coming out of them."
After an hour of the informal skills session, the pros posed for photos and broke out their Sharpies to autograph souvenir "Super Bowl Champions" caps for the former service members.
The Veterans and their guests then moved to the stadium's North Club Lounge to enjoy a complimentary dinner overlooking the field.
"This event lets Veterans know that we will go anywhere to make sure they get an opportunity to be recognized and to connect with us," says VA's VISN 4 Director Michael Moreland. "We want to help all Veterans get the services they've earned and deserve."
Editors Note: The VHA Healthcare System is organized into 21 regions called Veterans Integrated Services Networks (VISN). The Pittsburgh VA Medical Center is part of VISN 4.
By Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer