Soldiers receive a night full of recognition

By Rachel Hawkins

Seats for Soldiers, a recognition event created to honor wounded veterans hosted their 13th annual affair on Monday, Dec. 4. The Dallas Mavericks, American Airlines, and Nick & Sam’s restaurant partnered together to help create this event as a way to say thank you.

More than 100 wounded service members from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, and reserve troops from the DFW area were given a four-course dinner at Nick and Sam’s, and courtside seats to the Dallas Mavericks vs. Denver Nuggets game.

This event was originally created by Neal hawks, a Mavericks season holder and other season holders who donated their seats to the Seat for Soldiers program.

In addition to being flown in by American Airlines, the company also provided the veterans transportation to the restaurant and the game by a charter transportation called Fuel Smart. Fuel Smart is an airline team member-led fuel conservation program that provides flights for injured service members, veterans and their families.

“For the people in San Antonio I think this is a lot different, we usually don’t get exposed to the entire community,” Bobby Ehrig, who served seven years in active duty as a military police said. “Coming here and seeing people like the owners of the restaurant and the Mavericks embracing us makes the whole thing real to everybody.

“I went to the first one we had ten years ago where I was injured from active duty,” Ehrig said. “Other people wanted to find a way to recognize people sacrifices. Today, it started out with the flight and the Patriot Guard Riders coming to thank us in the beginning.

“I got injured in 2006, when I attended the first event in San Antonio,” Ehrig said. “I was still in my recovery phase. There were 700 to 800 of us that went to the first one. For us it was very nice, especially since we were coming straight from war. It was nice to come up here in a place where there’s no military insulations, and there’s just Texans who just wants to say thank you.”

An average of 3 percent of the US population serves on active duty. Currently more than half of all veterans are over the age of 60. A study from Pew Research Center showed that veterans who suffered major service-related injuries are more than twice as likely as their more fortunate comrades to say they had difficulties readjusting to civilian life. It also showed that they were three times a likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress (PTS).

“It kind of made me realize what I miss being on active duty for so many years,” Ehrig said. “For me, that was a compelling moment. There’s always a lot of things and problems we have to deal with. It makes a big deal when the transition to becoming a normal person is easier for us. Around 97 percent of the population have an opinion and a say on what we do. It makes a very big difference on us being able to have productive long lives as a regular person.

“When you’re in the military, or on active duty, you don’t really know what’s going on, and then you have to go back to a community, and try to reintegrate into a society you loss or left,” Ehrig said. “It’s really hard. These types of events mean a lot to us because they allow you to do exactly that.”

American Airlines also brought out their own veterans who are current staff member like their pilots and officers. They volunteered their time at the event to ensure the one-of-a-kind experience would be special for the soldiers.

An average of 60 percent of veterans who were retired from the military in 2012 due to a service-connected disability were under the age of 35.

“On behalf of the Dallas Mavericks family I want to say thank you for your sacrifices and your service. Michael Finley, former Dallas Mavericks player said. “This event today is just a little token of our appreciation. At the end of the day, you see sports heroes on television, but those aren’t the real heroes. The real ones are the veterans sitting in this room that sacrificed a lot so we can live the American dream.”

Before the game, the soldiers were served various sushi platters, mesclun greens, prime filet, and a seven layer Mavericks cake along with other appetizers.

“Giving back is special for us, and especially for tonight,” Samir Dhurandhar, Corporate Chef of Nick and Sam’s said. “We take life for granted, and these are the people that take care of us. This event is for them. I just want to put a smile on their face, and make sure they are welcome anywhere. This is the one day where they can really enjoy themselves.

“I would love to keep doing this,” Dhurandhar said. “When they asked me if I would do it my first word was ‘yes.’ This is my first year doing this. I would love to do this again in the future. Whatever they ask for, I’ll make it happen.”

After the game, the soldiers were personally thanked by former President George W. Bush, and First Lady Laura Bush. In addition the soldiers had the chance to meet the Mavs Dancers, Mavs ManiAACCs and the players and coaches.