CHARLOTTE, N.C. --
Before the National Football League season began, Minnesota Vikings running back and currently the NFL’s leading rusher Adrian Peterson re-signed with the Vikings for seven years – a contract worth more than $100 million.
But Sunday, at the Minnesota Vikings vs. Carolina Panthers NFL Military Appreciation Day game at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., more than 50 service members swore to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States in front of more than 70,000 screaming fans.
However, their contracts signed them up for at least another four years of service, was not for the money or benefits. They did it for service to their country.
Service members travelled to the football game from various installations across North Carolina, to include five Marines from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, to show the fans that there are those who are still committed to preserving freedom - the freedom that Adrian Peterson has to entertain the fan base and for the fans to enjoy such a spectacle.
For the third year in a row, the USO of North Carolina partnered with the Carolina Panthers organization to recognize service members’ efforts in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
John Falkenbury, the USO of North Carolina president, said conducting an oath of enlistment in front of thousands of die-hard football fans is a great way to connect the community and the military.
“The goal was to have a visible reminder of troops from the Carolinas presented to the more than 70,000 fans,” Falkenbury said. “Collectively, we decided that highlighting the commitment troops make by reenlisting for service and the oath they take is a simple, yet poignant way to drive home the selfless service our troops make here and abroad. Through partnership with the various military organizations, we were able to have a wide range of participation from across the Carolinas and North Carolina service members who are currently serving in Afghanistan.”
Once the players from both teams left the field after their warm-ups, the service members were called into formation. With razor-sharp precision, they stepped in unison to midfield. They about faced and rose their right arms. As a silent crowd looked on, service members on the field spoke the oath of enlistment together with a group of soldiers in Afghanistan broadcast live via satellite feed and displayed on the stadium jumbotrons. Soon after, a roaring jet flew above the stadium to cap off the pre-game festivities. Various chants of “Ooh-Rah,” and “Hooah” could be heard as the troops walked off the field.
“It was amazing watching these brave young men and women sign up for another four years,” said Marlene Young, a Panthers fan who attended the game. “I have no connection to the military whatsoever, so it’s hard for me to imagine what these troops go through. Also, to see the troops on the big screen gave me the chills and knowing that they are currently in harm’s way, lets me know we have the best and brightest out there. They truly deserve this and much more. I love them.”
Cpl. John B. Wagley, a reports noncommissioned officer in the Disbursing office, Headquarters and Support Battalion, MCB Camp Lejeune, said this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he’ll never forget.
“Seriously, how many Marines can walk on NFL football field, look sharp and have thousands of screaming fans praise you?” asked Wagley, who attended his first NFL game with his wife and daughter. “It gave me a lot of pride to stand out there. It also meant a lot to have my wife and daughter watch me reenlist.”
Sgt. Jeremy Parrott, a travel auditor at the Disbursing Office, agreed with Wagley’s emotions.
“This was truly a motivating experience for me,” said Parrott, and avid NFL fan. “Obviously, we don’t do it for the money or the fame, but to get recognized is truly an awesome experience.”
Gunnery Sgt. Laura A. Bigley, the career planner for Headquarters and Support Battalion, MCB Camp Lejeune, coordinated MCB Camp Lejeune’s participation in the festivities. She said that once received the phone call, she didn’t hesitate to give the Marines who were approved to reenlist a call.
“Right now, there aren’t a lot of incentives for first-term Marines to reenlist,” said Bigley. “But, they don’t reenlist for the incentives. They do it because they want to keep serving their country. NFL games are ideal for things like this and they looked sharp today.”