The loud and loyal home town crowd gathered in the TD Garden for the Boston Celtics vs. Charlotte Bobcats game, here, Jan. 14, 2011. They cheered on their boys in the Green Celtic uniforms … as well as a select group of spectators … Jennifer Morin was one of them.
“In some cases it was …very overwhelming,” said Morin, “I probably had … no less than a dozen people stop me … just to say “Thank You”
Morin, a first lieutenant with the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 164th Transportation Battalion, was one of 18 National Guard Soldiers from Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, all who had recently returned home after serving overseas, who were recognized by the Celtics as part of their Seats For Soldiers program.
The program, now in its third year, is a simple one. Season ticket holders and players donate their tickets for one game to members of the Armed Forces, so that the servicemembers can enjoy a game. For this game more than 600 tickets were donated for the troops.
“We see how much others give back for this country. We’re sitting here and we’re safe because of the sacrifices and efforts of so many,” said Matt Meyersohn, director of community relations and player development for the Boston Celtics. “The least we can do is give our fans and our players the opportunity to thank service men and women for everything they do.”
Meyersohn is one member of the Celtics organization who donated tickets. For him this is a way to give something back to the troops.
“A lot of the freedoms that we take for granted are because of the work of the men and women in our Armed Forces,” said Meyersohn. “Those of us who have stayed home and received the liberty because of it … we have the opportunity to give back in small ways.”
It takes around six months of time, effort and planning to make an event like this happen. The Massachusetts National Guard, one of the event’s sponsors, worked with their counterparts in Maine and New Hampshire to reach out to Soldiers who recently returned from the Iraq and Afghanistan Campaigns.
“The WOW factor is there,” said Lt. Col. John Driscoll, commander, Massachusetts National Guard’s Recruiting Battalion. ”The other states are just blown away from the welcome they received by the Celtics.”
The troops received more than tickets from the Celtics and their fans. The Servicemembers were allowed into the Garden early to watch the team’s practice. Before the game started, four Soldiers were recognized. This continued throughout the game with different Servicemembers from all branches of the Armed Forces being presented to the crowd. There were video feeds from Kuwait, were members of the 1st Battalion, 126 Aviation Regiment, Massachusetts Army National Guard were watching the game. One of the highlights of the evening was when 18 Soldiers were brought out on to the court between periods. In every instance the crowd went wild.
“It’s very hard to appreciate the level of gratitude expressed by the fans here … it’s just overwhelming,” said Driscoll. “The loudest cheers come up not only when the when the Celtics score, but when those Soldiers were introduced, the ones that just came back from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
One of those returning Soldiers was Staff Sgt. Luiz DeSouza; he came home the day before Christmas. As he was walking in the Celtics museum, DeSouza saw something that brought him back in time.
“There was a picture of my daughter and I, right in the museum over there from our going away ceremony that was also here just about a year ago,” said DeSouza.
Besides the official recognition from the Celtics, there was the unofficial recognition for the troops. It came from the crowd and the everyday Garden employee; people were stopping the troops and saying “Thank You”.
“It was heartwarming and really nice,” said Morin, “Really nice.”
The Celtics went on to beat the Bobcats 99 to 94. As the crowd went home, there was one last “Thank You” for the troops. Celtics guard Ray Allen, took the time after the game ended to pose for pictures with any Servicemember who was interested. He was there for a long time.