By Teresa Varley
For those at Ft. Hood in Texas, the past two weeks have been filled with sadness and pain after 12 soldiers and one civilian were shot and killed and over 30 injured in a shooting spree.
But on Sunday, the spirits of some of those stationed there got a big lift when they were able to attend the Steelers-Bengals game at Heinz Field.
The visit was sponsored by Operation Once in a Lifetime at the invitation of safety Troy Polamalu.
The group of U.S. Army soldiers who took part in the visit are all Purple Heart recipients who were wounded in combat but are still active in the Delta Company WTU (Wounded Transition Unit). They are all Steelers fans, so the chance to come to Pittsburgh for a game was a dream come true.
"It's the greatest feeling. Words can't even describe it," said SSGT James Thomas Cook, Jr., who injured his back falling off a Bradley fighting vehicle, but continued with the deployment and another before realizing the severity of the injury. "For so many of us our job consumes our whole lives so we don't have a chance to enjoy life. For them to bring us here is overwhelming. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and I love it."
Operation Once in a Lifetime helps to grant wishes for military members to help them with major needs or to help lift the spirits of the soldiers.
"These guys have endured more than most humans are capable of," said retired Sgt. Patrick Sowers, who heads up the foundation. "We have one soldier here today who died three times after being hit by an IED but was brought back to life. These guys all give. The wounds they have are physical, but emotional wounds as well. This experience right now helps with that."
Polamalu got involved with the foundation because of his commitment to the military, as both and his wife have had family members who have served.
"I think it's important for every American to understand what their role is, the armed forces role in our daily lives," said Polamalu. "Our daily lives are affected by their commitment and their sacrifice they make for this country. They sacrifice not only their own lives.
"In the broader scheme of things they sacrifice time away from their families and their own personal daily freedoms that we have. They are not able to do things because they are overseas. It's important for people to realize the sacrifices they make for us and give them their due honor and respect."
The soldiers had the opportunity to meet some of the Steelers players before the game, watch pre-game warm-ups from the sideline, and then watch the game after taking part in pregame ceremonies.
"It let's you be a kid for one day," said SSGT Cook. "It's a big morale boost. I never felt like a hero, but now to everyone back home they are like you got to meet the Steelers and I am the big man in the house now."
The group also had the chance to meet Steelers Hall of Famer Joe Greene, who was on the same flight with them from Texas and spent time with the soldiers at the airport and on the field before the game.
"Meeting the soldiers was special," said Greene. "I had the chance to do that and shake hands and say how proud I am of them."
If you would like to make a donation to Operation Once in a Lifetime to help fulfill the wishes of those in the military, please visit their website at http://operationonceinalifetime.com/.