By Peter Schwartz
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When the Red Bulls step on the pitch on Saturday night, there will be three big points on the line against the New England Revolution.
But what will be even more important is the entire evening and what it means to the organization and all Americans.
In conjunction with Bayer, Saturday is “Military Appreciation Night” in Harrison as the Red Bulls will pay tribute to our armed forces, including veterans and the brave men and women that protect the United States today.
“We’re very excited,” said Christina Giunta-Quarino, the Red Bulls’ senior director of field marketing and community relations. “We have a lot of things going on both for veterans and military members and we’re doing a lot for the families as well.”
There are a number of special ceremonies and events that will take place on Saturday night.
Prior to the game, there will be an honorary coin toss featuring Vietnam veteran John Harrigan of New Jersey. Harrigan founded the country’s first and only veteran cemetery operated by a veteran. It is located in Sparta, New Jersey.
Also, there will be a collection of letters and active members of the military and veterans on the BULLevard (Red Bulls pre-game fan fest), and the first 15,000 fans in attendance will receive a commemorative hat.
Just before the scheduled 7:30 p.m. kickoff more than 100 active members of the military as well as veterans will be holding the American flag on the field for the national anthem.
“We’ll also be including their families to take part in the pre-game ceremony,” Giunta-Quarino said. “And they’ll also get to be honored again at halftime, so if people missed it pre-game, they’ll get to do it again at halftime.”
After the first 45 minutes of play, the Red Bulls hope to be well on their way to knocking off their Eastern Conference rivals from Foxboro, Massachusetts, but the night is about much more than a soccer game.
It’s about what this weekend stands for.
“Memorial Day gives our nation a special opportunity to express our gratitude to all those who have served or are currently serving our great nation,” Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “Coming from a military heritage, my dad and brother have carried the weighty mantle of service and I am indebted to them. They are examples of patriotism and selflessness and as we celebrate this special day may we honor them as well as everyone who answers that call, especially those who are no longer with us.”
One of the most highly anticipated moments of the evening will be when the Red Bulls and Southern New Hampshire University present a very special gift.
Through a partnership that began last season with Paws of War, an organization that trains and places rescued dogs with United States military veterans that suffer from the emotional effects of war, the Red Bulls and SNHU will deliver a service dog to a military veteran from the Long Island town of Ronkonkoma.
“It’s one of the most exciting things that we do all year as an organization,” Giunta-Quarino said. “The fact that we can give a service dog to a military member is very important to us. We know that it’s something that is so important to the United States. Every day in the U.S. 22 veterans commit suicide, so having a service dog that can be there for that veteran makes the world of difference.”
The veteran, an active member of the NYU Veterans Writer Workshop, is also going to be provided with writing courses.
“He loves to write and he’s written a few articles before,” Giunta-Quarino said.
It’s going to be a night filled with exciting soccer on the pitch, but the evening is really about what we stand for as a country. It’s a night when the entire Red Bulls organization and its supporters have the opportunity to honor our veterans and active military members for their service to the land that we love.
A win over New England would be the icing on the cake, but everyone involved in this special night will be winners no matter the result.
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @NewYorkRedBulls and @PawsofWarUSA