Colonel makes presentation to Pittsburgh Penguins
By 2nd Lt. Chris Preffer, 171st Public Affairs
/ Published December 21, 2009
Jan. 2010 -- As the Pittsburgh Penguins prepared to face off against the Carolina Hurricanes at Mellon Arena December 7, 2009; members of the 171st Air Refueling Wing joined players on the ice in a pre-game presentation.
Col. Mark Van Kooten, 171st Maintenance Group Commander presented Penguin General Manager, Ray Shero with a plaque and an American Flag that was flown over Iraq in honor of the 2009 National Hockey League Stanley Cup Champions.
As the Penguins were battling the Redwings in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, Van Kooten, a Pittsburgher, took the initiative to have the flag flown in his team's honor. "I had a funny feeling about this one, I knew we were going to win," said Van Kooten. The flag was flown during a Special Operations Combat Mission in direct support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
This symbolic gesture is one of the highest honors deployed service men and women can give civilians upon their return. The flag was accompanied by a certificate that includes a solemn statement; "This flag is presented to The Pittsburgh Penguins as a symbol of the sovereign power of the United States of America and the unshakeable resolve to keep our country safe."
"There are few reasons for today's service men and women to relax, and celebrate while deployed," said Van Kooten. "The Stanley Cup run the Penguins took gave us a taste of Pittsburgh, and for that we were all thankful!"
Col. Van Kooten was joined by the 171st Air Refueling Wing's Color Guard as well as Maj. Gen. Jessica L. Wright, The Adjutant General of Pennsylvania, Brig. Gen. Roy Uptegraff and members of the 171st Recruiting staff.
"As the announcers read over the citation and mentioned flown in Iraq during Stanley Cup final game, the arena erupted," said Master Sgt. Sue Smith, 171st Recruiting Officer Supervisor. She continued, "Those fans and the presentation gave me the chills of excitement and admiration."
Technical Sgt. John Frazier, 171st Recruiter, added, "As common for most Pittsburghers, we love our sports teams, beer and the military. When you combine all of these, as had happened Monday night in Mellon Arena, the result is Pittsburgh magic."
Though the Penguins lost to the Hurricanes 3-2, the presentation, national anthem and fans merged to create nothing short of true Pittsburgh magic.