When Tech. Sgt. Mike Harder traveled home for the holidays, he enjoyed time with his family, his friends and his favorite football team.
Harder, a 96th Security Forces Squadron Combat Arms instructor, is a life-long New England Patriots fan. He knew his first trip home in two years would be memorable. The Ware, Mass., native and seven family members had tickets for the pre-Thanksgiving game with the Detroit Lions Nov. 23.
What he didn’t know was his wife, Angela, contacted the Robert Kraft Group to ask if her husband could take part in the NFL’s Salute to Service, a year-long program to raise awareness for the sacrifices made by the military. The group, named for New England Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft, had plans to honor active-duty military, veterans and wounded warriors during the game at Gillette Stadium.
“I found an email address for the Kraft Group and just told them Mike’s story, about all the great things he does for the military and the community,” Angela said. “I asked if there was some way he could be honored at the game.”
Angela told them about Harder’s year-long deployment to Afghanistan where he did convoy duties and foot patrol with an Army unit. She told them about his volunteering as a cop each weekend with the Crestview Police Department. She told them how incredibly proud she is of him.
“I wasn’t expecting anything big,” Angela said. “I thought maybe they’d send him a t-shirt or a towel.”
Angela was surprised three days later when she received a call from the Patriot’s front office to invite her husband to be included in the pre-game activities.
“I consider our veterans and active-duty soldiers as the true unsung heroes of our country,” said Kraft. “It’s always great to give our fans an opportunity to show their appreciation to these real Patriots heroes, and our Salute to Service game did just that.”
Harder, who’s spent 16 years in the Air Force, said being on the field was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. While other family members huddled around the TV hoping to get a glimpse of him, Harder was on the field with Medal of Honor awardee Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts and other servicemen past and present. Pitts received the medal for actions in Afghanistan on July 13, 2008, when he risked his life during combat operations when he single-handedly defended his observation post from an attack by more than 200 Taliban militants. Pitts was awarded the Medal of Honor during a White House ceremony in July.
“The best part of the trip was being on the field with Sergeant Pitts,” Harder said. “The greatest experience of all was standing there with a hero.”
Even though his time on the field was just long enough to witness the flag ceremony and render his salute during the National Anthem, it was an opportunity he’ll never forget.
“I’m absolutely a huge New England fan because it’s home for me,” Harder said. It’s an amazing thing they do to honor the veterans, it’s such a large corporation and it speaks volumes of their support for the military.”
Article by Lois Walsh, Team Eglin Public Affairs
PHOTO (top): Tech. Sgt. Mike Harder, a 96th Security Forces Squadron Combat Arms instructor, enjoyed pre-game activities at a New England Patriots home game with their cheerleaders Nov. 23. He, along with other active-duty military, veterans and wounded warriors were honored during the NFL’s Salute to Service, a year-long program to raise awareness for the sacrifices made by the military.