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Game 55 – Warriors Have “One Of The Best Days Of Their Lives” at Super Bowl LII!

After an unforgettable week of making warrior Wishes come true during Super Bowl week in Minnesota, you would not think it could get any better… but we were just getting started!

Super Bowl Weekend turned out to be an incredible experience for 4 inspirational warriors. We were honored to be hosting Marine Cpl Carlos Garcia, Army Sgt John Friesel, Navy Seal Chris Serle & Army Sgt Greg Hedrick at the “Big Game.”

MEET THE WARRIORS 

MARINE CPL CARLOS GARCIA

Marine Corporal Carlos Garcia was on his first deployment when he was severely injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in Sangin, Afghanistan on Nov. 20, 2010.  While on a foot patrol with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, Cpl Garcia was in a familiar area near a canal that was frequently used by his squad when he stepped on an unidentified IED. The resulting injuries were so severe that both of his legs required amputations above the knee.

See how big of an Eagles fan Carlos is here!

ARMY SSG JOHN KRIESEL

On December 2006 the vehicle Kriesel and four of his comrades were riding in encountered a 200 lb. Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The blast killed two of Kriesel’s best friends and he was severely injured, losing both legs, suffering numerous broken bones and internal injuries. He was transported to two field hospitals in Iraq where he died three times on the operating table before doctors saved his life. He woke up in Walter Reed Army Medical Center after an 8-day medically induced coma where he learned about the death of his two comrades and the severity of his injuries.  Nine months after his near-death experience in Iraq, John returned to Minnesota to begin his new life. His transition from military to civilian life offered many challenges, humor allowed him to bounce back stronger than ever.

Learn More About SGT Kriesel, buy his book & get inspired here!

NAVY SEAL CHRIS SERLE

Chris Serle was a Navy SEAL on team 2 on his first deployment, when the worst thing imaginable happened. Chris’s best friend who was walking next to him stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) and lost both of his legs- and Chris lost the vision in one of his eyes. Both men were unable to continue their service in the military, and are now medically retired with Purple Hearts. Chris continued on with his education in order to continue helping people, and was just accepted into Eastern Virginia Medical School to start their program this summer to become a doctor. Chris has been an Eagles fan all his life & having the chance to see his team in the Super Bowl was a dream come True!

ARMY SGT GREG HEDRICK

Greg served two deployments in Iraq and a third in Afghanistan. On September 20, 2012, he was on a mission to recover a downed vehicle that had been struck by an improvised explosive device (IED). It was then that his own vehicle was struck by an armor piercing rocket propelled grenade. The attack left one dead and two injured. Greg lost his left leg above the knee, most of his left hand, and suffered severe PTS and TBI. He was flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he underwent countless surgeries and years of physical therapy.

While in the hospital, Greg was visited by US Army SSG Travis Mills, an inspirational quadruple amputee who we had the honor of hosting at the Superbowl in 2014. and He believes Travis’ inspiring words marked a turning point in his own journey of recovery.  Greg has also been an Eagles fan all his life and was beyond excited to see them play in the Big Game!

Greg & Chris were first to arrive in the “Twin Cities.” They were escorted in via private jet thanks to David, Jen and Veterans Airlift Command.

Carlos arrived shortly after, however, he flew into Minneapolis airport across town.

The Minneapolis Fire Dept teamed up with us to provide the warriors with transportation all weekend long! We cannot thank them enough for helping the guys get around the city.

Unfortunately our original 4th guest, a Warrior from Boston who is a diehard Patriots fan, had a last minute family emergency to attend to and could not make it out to Minnesota. So we decided to fill his spot at last minute with local Minnesota wounded veteran, Army Sgt John Friesel.

After all the warriors had arrived in town, my dad stopped to pick up the Super Bowl tickets from our friends at ESPN.

Then Pierce, our Minnesota Fire Dept chauffeur suggested that they all stop to get a famous Minnesota “Jucy Lucy” before making their way to the house.  For those of you who don’t know, a “Jucy Lucy” is a Burger stuffed with Cheese & other fillings. They even have one filled with peanut butter & a “Thanksgiving” burger stuffed with turkey, cranberries! It was a unique dining experience that the warriors enjoyed.

Eventually the group made their way about 15 minutes outside of downtown to “check in” to the rental house. With hotel rooms fetching a minimum of $750 a night, we decided to rent a house. We got lucky & found a 3 bedroom rental for $750 per night. This gave the warriors the opportunity to hang out with each other & they each had their own room. Plus the lady we rented the house from provided them with a little welcome package full of snacks for their stay. It worked out perfectly!

After “checking in” the guys made the decision to head back downtown to experience the Super Bowl atmosphere & festivities. The snow & ice made it a little challenging to get around but thankfully the skyway connected many of the venues, so everyone stayed nice & warm.

Eventually everyone made their way back to the house around midnight to settle in & rest up for the big game!

Minnesota firefighter Shane Thorn, also a Marine, was at the house at 11am to escort the guys downtown to their VIP tailgate before the game.  The warriors were pumped up for their Super Bowl experience. Carlos even came prepared with his “Dog Mask.” (An Eagles novelty because they have been “underdogs” all season)

The guys met up with Army Sgt John Kriesel and Marine Mark Toppel (Warrior Wishes board member) at Fire Station 1 which was connected to the tailgate across the street from US Bank stadium.

Thanks to our friends at Bullseye event group, our group was treated to a VIP tailgate experience before the big game for the 2nd straight year. This year’s event was once again filled with players & celebrities. Celebrity Chef, Guy Fieri was once again in charge of the delicious food. Guy made sure to stop by to thank the warriors for their service & sacrifices before the event kicked off.

The tailgate was quite a bit more crowded than usual due to the fact that in all the other warm climate Super Bowls have outdoor and indoor seating areas. With temperatures in the single digits, Minnesota’s event did not have any outdoor seating…  Thankfully, Bullseye provided a reserved table which made it a little easier for the warriors.

The guys collected autographs from players, and enjoyed a few hours of delicious food and drinks before making their way over to the stadium to see the Philadelphia Eagles take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII!

My dad & Mark escorted the warriors to the stadium to make sure they got in without any issues & hit the road back home before the game even started.  Meanwhile, the guys were inside US Bank stadium “Jacked as Heck” to experience the Super Bowl!

The Eagles were big underdogs going into the game. Partly because they were playing the Patriots & they also had a backup QB under center. But on any given Sunday, anything can happen. Carlos, Chris & Greg were all hoping to see their eagles win their first ever title in team history. John was rooting against the Eagles only because they just knocked out his Vikings for a chance to play in the big game at “home.” They all just hoped to see a great game

And a great game they got! The teams exchanged field goals on their opening possessions of the game. On the Eagles 2nd possession of the game they only needed 3 plays to find the end zone to take an early lead into the 2nd quarter.

The Eagles had control of the game & looked as if they were going to coast to an easy win. But late in the first half, Hsu committed 2 defensive penalties to set up he Patriots for an easy score.

I think many people thought that was going to be the turning point of the game… but the Eagles, with just over 2 minutes left in the half, wanted to get the momentum back on their side and took just over a minute to march down the field on 7 plays and hit paydirt just before the half.

My dad said it was weird not watching the big game, but he and Mark listened to the game on the radio the whole way home. He said he could only imagine how much fun the warriors were having watching the roller coaster first half.

The guys enjoyed watching Justin Timberlake perform during the halftime show & were excited to see how this game would play out. They never expected the offensive explosion both teams would have in the 2nd half.

The Patriots scored first, the Eagles answered. The Patriots marched down the field and scored again to cut the Eagles lead to 3. The Eagles marched down and answered again with a field goal of their own. Patriots marched and scored their 3rd TD in as many possessions and the Eagles once again answered with a TD of their own.

The biggest play of the game came late in the 4th quarter. With both defenses struggling to stop the other team, the Eagles were able to strip the ball away from tom brady & recovered the fumble! The turnover set them up for a chip shot field goal to give Philadelphia a 41-33 lead & ice the game!

My dad arrived home to see the last play of the game & The underdog Philadelphia Eagles were world champions for the first time ever! Carlos, Chris & Greg, 3 of the biggest Eagles fans we have ever met, celebrated their Victory!

The Eagles thrilling 41-33 victory made 3 of our heroes VERY happy and John was just happy to be there and even called it “one of the best days of my life.”

It’s always humbling when we hear those words. It never gets old & we are so honored & proud to have had the opportunity to provide these experiences for the brave warriors who deserve it!

After making Warrior Wishes come true & providing unforgettable experiences at more than 50 NFL games throughout the 2017 season, including the Pro Bowl & Super Bowl, we can officially say “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!”

SEE ALL THE 2017 “ALL32IN17” HIGHLIGHTS HERE!

We are so incredibly thankful to everyone all season long who helped us make each warriors experience special. Without all of you, we could not have made it all possible!  And we couldn’t have made this Super Bowl experience “one of the best days of these warriors lives” without all of these amazing people & organizations!

Thanks to Denise, Chris and the entire ESPN crew that has been helping make wishes come true since 2012!

Thanks to Walt & Jen at Veterans Airlift Command for setting up private flights, as well as David, Eric and Bob who flew the warriors to Minnesota & back!

Thanks to Kyle and John at the Bullseye Event Group for providing VIP Tailgate Passes, thanks to Guy Fieri for hanging out with the guys for awhile!

Thanks to Chief Fruetel, Chief Tyner and the entire Minneapolis Fire Dept for setting up transportation around town for our Super Bowl VIP guests! Thank you to Pierce and Shane for being the hands on guys that provided that transportation,and hung our with the guys all weekend!

Thanks to New Era Cap for providing caps to the warriors all season long!

Thanks to the kids at Clinton and Ridge View elementary Schools in IL for providing thank you cards & letters for their us to present to the warriors!

TOGETHER WE MAKE WARRIOR WISHES COME TRUE!

Most importantly, Operation Warrior Wishes would like to thank Army Sgt Greg Hedrick, Navy Seal Chris Serle, Army Sgt John Kriesel & Marine Carlos Garcia for your service & sacrifices to our country. It was an absolute honor to have the opportunity to give back to you & host you all at the Super Bowl! We truly hope it was everything you had hoped it would be & an experience you will never forget!

My dad will be taking a few weeks off to prepare for our upcoming Battlefields to Ballfields mission. Make sure to nominate your hero today & let’s make their Warrior Wishes come true!

Thank You For Your Support!

Follow the Mission at www.warriorwishes.org or on Facebook @ Operation Warrior Wishes

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Warrior Wishes Come True At Superbowl 50 Opening Night!

My dad spent months planning to make warrior wishes come true in San Francisco during Super Bowl week.  He was able to set up events to host heroes almost every day of the week leading up to the big game. 

In past years what is formerly known as “Media Day” was always on Tuesday.  So I booked my dads flight for less than $100 round trip leaving Tuesday morning in order to get him in town before media day began.  The only problem was that they changed “Media Day” to “Superbowl Opening Night” this year & they changed it to Monday instead of Tuesday. 

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But that didn’t stop us from making warrior wishes come true!  Thanks to the NFL & the SAP center, we were able to send Army SPC Alex Vega, Navy Warrior Sal Duenas, Army SGT Christian Valle & their families to Super Bowl Opening Night on Monday. 

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The Warriors got to watch & listen live as media outlets from all over the world asked Broncos & Panthers players questions.  It was a great way to kickoff the week!

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My Dad will be flying in first thing Tuesday morning & will be making Warrior Wishes come true all week long!

MEET THE WARRIORS

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Alex served from 2001-2004.  He served on a peace keeping mission in kosovo in 2002 & then on a deployment to Iraq in 2003.  He now works full time & enjoys spending time with his family.

ARMY SGT CHRISTIAN VALLE

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On Oct. 23, 2005 Army SGT Cristian Valle was on patrol performing a vehicle checkpoint in Balad, Iraq when a mortar round with a grenade attached was thrown out the window of a passing vehicle. The grenade exploded a few feet away from SGT Valle, tossing him into the air. He lost one of his legs immediately and the other was so severely damaged it was eventually amputated. He also sustained a pelvic fracture, burns and significant blood loss.

After SGT Valle was tossed into the air and landed on the ground, through the dust and smoke, the first thing that caught his eye was his wedding ring and he says that is what pulled him through. He spent 13 months at Walter Reed, where he had multiple leg cleaning surgeries and months of physical therapy. Today he is continuously adjusting to his condition.  

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Game 43 – Warrior Wishes Come True at the AFC Championship Game!

Not many people can say that their first NFL game ever is a thrilling AFC Championship game in which your favorite team wins and goes to the Super Bowl.  However, Operation Warrior Wishes is extremely proud to have provided that very experience for 82nd Airborne Army SFC Nicholas Dighans and his wife, Holli. 

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We started this experience on Thursday Night when we surprised this 14 year, 5 deployment wounded veteran -with the help of Holli & his favorite restaurant, Outback Steakhouse.

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We set up a dinner with their friends in their hometown  Bozeman, Montana. At dinner, Nick got a phone call from “a radio station” (us) to win free dinner.  Not only did he win dinner but when told he was going to Broncos game Sunday, replied “Is this a joke ?”

Well it was no joke.  Saturday morning SFC Dighans & his wife made the 8 hour drive to Denver & got a good night sleep, thanks to our friends at the luxurious Westin Westminster hotel, before their big day.

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I was able to score $19 airfare from Chicago to Denver 3 weeks ago with the hopes that Denver would make it to the AFC Championship game.  And thankfully they did.  So for less than $20 my dad flew to Denver Saturday nightto make SFC Dighans warrior wish come true.  

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Of course, he slept at the airport upon arrival in Denver to rest up for the day. Sunday morning, my dad met up with SFC Dighans for a delicious brunch thanks to  Elways restaurant. 

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From there they headed to Sports Authority Field aka “Mile High” to tailgate before watching the Broncos & Patriots face off for a conference championship & a trip to San Francisco to play in the Super Bowl!  

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Not many people gave the Broncos a chance against Tom Brady & the Pats.  The Patriots were the clear favorite and the aging Peyton Manning had clearly lost a step over the years.  But in the NFL anything can happen on any given Sunday.

As SFC Dighans & his wife made their way in the stadium, my dad made friends with tailgaters in the parking lot to watch the game. 

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The battle between Manning & Brady was underway.  Manning & the Broncos controlled the game.  The Broncos Defense kept Brady in check much of the game.  

The Broncos were up by 8 late in the 4th quarter.  Brady connected with Gronkowski on a 4th & long to keep their season alive.  Just a few plays later connected with him again, this time in the end zone!  Down 2, because of an early missed extra point, the Pats were forced into going for a dramatic 2 point conversion attempt.  

Brady took the snap & fired a pass over the middle to Edelman.  The ball was tipped into the air & intercepted!  Mile High stadium erupted into cheers and was literally rocking!  SFC Dighans & Broncos fans worldwide celebrated the victory as their team was headed to Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco!!! 

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After the game my dad met back up with Nick & his wife outside the stadium by the players tunnel to celebrate the victory with the team.  Von Miller ran out & high fived all the fans!  

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The Dighans thanked us for the once in a lifetime experience & made their way back to the hotel.  My dad made his way back to the airport.  He had to catch a 7am flight to Dallas, that I booked for $36, to make warrior wishes come true at Monday nights Dallas Stars game!

We would like to thank The Westin Westminster hotel for providing SFC Dighans with luxurious accommodations, Elway’s Downtown for providing a delicious lunch before the game, Outback Steakhouse for helping us surprise Nick with this opportunity & New Era Cap for providing Broncos caps!  Most importantly, thanks to SFC Dighans for your service & sacrifices to our country! 

TOGETHER WE MAKE WARRIOR WISHES COME TRUE!

Next stop Super Bowl 50!!!

SFC NICHOLAS DIGHANS

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SFC (Ret.) Nick Dighans from Belgrade, Montana served in the U.S Army for 14.5 years before being medically retired. He left for basic training right after graduating high school to follow in his father’s footsteps of serving our country. During his time in service he completed 5 combat tours ( 3 to Iraq, 2 to Afghanistan) & earned numerous awards including 2 bronze stars. He always believed that he would do a full 20 year + career in the army because that is where he belonged but unfortunately his numerous combat tours took their toll resulting in his early medical retirement. He now lives in Bozeman, Montana with his wife and two daughters spending his time fly fishing and enjoying his family.

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