"The Hero Of The Game program is a season long commitment made by the LA Kings to pay tribute to local military personnel and their families. The LA Kings host one military family at each home game to show our gratitude for their continued commitment and sacrifice. As the Hero Of The Game, honorees are treated to dinner in the Lexus Club prior to the game and are recognized on ice during the National Anthem and again during the second period." — The Official Site of the LA Kings
On March 18, 2019, I was honored by the LA Kings — and it was one of the most patriotic moments of my life.
Being the 'Hero of the Game' really wasn't about me — it was about the service of our nation's military. The truth is, most of the veterans I've spoken with have an uncomfortable relationship with the word "hero." Few of us personally feel like we live up to the title.
What I tell every veteran who carries survivor's guilt or who feels like they didn't do enough is this: you answered your nation's call. You volunteered, you took an oath, and you were ready to give your life to protect and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies. That's pretty heroic.
Still, deep down, I don't personally feel heroic.
I think most of us struggle with this, so when I was informed by a representative of the L.A. Kings that they would like to honor me, I wasn't really sure what to expect — and honestly, I wasn't really sure if I deserved it.
Here's what the night entails:
From left to right: Pin-Ups for Vets founder Gina Elise, U.S. Air Force veteran Shannon Corbeil, Forest Corbeil, Monica Kay
The L.A. Kings have this process down. I was given a very clean itinerary for the evening, including details about complimentary parking, when to pick up my tickets (for myself and three guests), and where to meet a rep from the L.A. Kings who would escort my group to dinner.
In fact, the process is so streamlined that Kings fans know about it and wait to greet that night's Hero. One woman with season tickets likes to meet the service members and take photos before the game with a touching art print of what it means to be a hero.
Before we even made it inside the Staples Center, patriotic fans were eager to meet me and thank me for my service.
We had no idea what was in store.
The Kings treated us to a delicious (and customized) dinner at the Lexus Club with a great view of L.A. Live and Downtown Los Angeles. We had an hour to eat (and grab some candy) before our rep came back for us and brought me to the ice.
I was informed ahead of time that I would stand on the ice during the National Anthem — and as the Kings were playing the Winnipeg Jets, both the Canadian National Anthem and the U.S. National Anthem would be performed.
The National Anthem during the opening ceremony of the Kings vs Jets.
(Photo by Simone Lara, California Army National Guard)
I don't know if I should admit this, but I probably cared more about proper protocol and uniform standards during this event than I ever did while on active duty. It was very important to me to reflect well upon my branch and the military as a whole. Strangely, Air Force Instruction 34-1201 doesn't expressly state uniform guidance for the Hero of the Game — an indoor event with a formation of...me...so I was left to interpret the manual for myself (with the help of previous honorees).
I decided to wear my cover so I could salute the flags during both anthems — and I found myself proud that it is tradition in the United States to infuse a moment of patriotism into our sporting events.
I had been nominated for my work in the veteran community — and specifically for my volunteer efforts with Pin-Ups for Vets, a non-profit organization that helps hospitalized and deployed service members and their families. To make the night even more special, the Kings offered Pin-Ups for Vets ambassadors and their guests free tickets, so after this high-visibility moment, I started receiving messages from fellow vets in the crowd.
Then we were escorted to our
holy sh** seats.
One of our neighbors said we were in Eric Stonestreet's seats — and if this is true, someone please thank him for me.
Seats for the Hero of the Game are graciously donated by a patriotic donor for the season. We got lucky that night because our seats were upgraded further — right up against the glass. That's how we discovered that hockey is exhilarating and completely vicious.
If it wasn't the puck flying at my face and ricocheting off the glass, it was the players slamming each other into the wall twelve inches from where we were sitting. Most of the other fans seated next to us held season tickets, so this was normal for them — but for us, it was thrilling.
Oh — and you're allowed to bang on the glass. I highly recommend it.
As I walked around, people approached to greet me and thank me for my service or, my favorite, tell me about their own time in the military or their family's service. It was great to connect with people who were excited about the military. It made me realize how far our country has come.
Hero of the Game - Los Angeles Kings
Then, during the first period I really learned what it meant to be the Hero of the Game.
My name came up on the Jumbotron and I looked up, a bit embarrassed, as pictures of me in uniform flashed across the screen. I turned to give my sister a disparaging look and realized she was standing.
The entire arena was standing.
At that moment, I didn't feel like me, Shannon — I felt like a veteran of the United States Air Force.
As someone who shares military stories on We Are The Mighty, I'm well-versed in how poorly our country treated our Vietnam War Veterans. I have stood witness to the devastation that has been inflicted upon the men and women who have worn the uniform throughout history. I've watched my fellow veterans struggle with seen and unseen wounds. I've experienced them myself.
Yet that night, as thousands of people stood to honor the Hero of the Game, I felt a deep sense of gratitude and hope. I'm thankful that our countrymen and women support the troops and that Americans recognize and appreciate the sacrifices of our military and want to give back.
I felt so grateful that there are advocates for veterans and that there are non-profits serving them. It was as if I was in a room of people who want the best for each other, which is why we have a military in the first place.
The military stands for the best in the American people, and that night, the American people were standing for the military.
Thank you to the LA Kings, not just for the incredible experience you gave me, but for supporting the military all season long. It means more than you know.
You can nominate a deserving service member as Hero of the Game right here.