Sgt. 1st Class Lyndell West, a Fort Bragg Soldier who is slated to retire in December, posed for a picture in front of a Carolina Panther’s inflatable, last Friday, at South View High School, in Hope Mills, North Carolina. He was one of many service members and veterans attending the Salute to Service, a program coordinated by the Panthers in partnership with the USO of North Carolina, held at SVHS’s varsity football game against their area rival, Gray’s Creek High School, Fayetteville.
At the military appreciation event, attendees received American flags, watched the color guard march onto the Randy Ledford Field and saluted the National Anthem. They also had their gear autographed and took pictures with Panthers’ players, Damiere Byrd (wide receiver), Drew Iddings (defensive tackle) and Scott Simonson (tight end), with Panthers’ cheerleaders and with Sir Purr, the team mascot.
Other activities included representation of the U.S. Marine Corps by Sgt. Del Rosario and a designated seating area at the end of Ledford Field where veterans and service members were treated to food and drinks.
West said he very much appreciated the Salute to Service event.
“It’s one of the good things they can do for the Soldiers,” he said. “It brings up morale.”
Edwin W. Drews, 88, a Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War, took in festivities as he walked to his seat.
So, what did he think of everything?
“(It’s) great,” said Drews with a smile.
Spc. William Bostic, a Soldier assigned to the XVIII Airborne Corps, said it was good for the Panthers to make the drive all the way from Charlotte, North Carolina, just to take time out for Soldiers.
“It’s a blessing because they’re millionaires,” Bostic explained.
“It’s a wonderful atmosphere to be a part of,” said Renee Lane, director of Fort Bragg’s USO of NC. The significance of the event did not seem lost on her.
The community is full of veterans, active-duty Soldiers and their Families, said Lane.
South View is located in a heavily-populated military community and has children whose parents not only serve, but whose parents deploy, so it’s “quite the honor” to pay respect, said Chad Barbour, SVHS athletic director.
Rodney Brewington, SVHS head football coach, agreed.
“It’s one of those things where it’s a very humbling experience. Being able to experience the freedoms we do in the United States and being able to come and go as you want, being able to express yourself freely, it’s because of the sacrifice that our troops have made,” said Brewington, who was also recognized as Panther’s Coach of the Week on a night when his team won the game 35-21.
“We are just so appreciative for the men and women who give of their time, energy and their lives to make sure that we have a free country.”
For Simonson, who has been with the Panthers for three years, partnering with Fort Bragg’s USO of NC was important, he said.
“I come from a military Family. Both of my grandfathers served,” Simonson explained. “I’d always heard about Fort Bragg. I’d never actually been there because I’m from New Jersey. It’s (Fort Bragg’s) a nice, tight-knit, close-knit community. Serving in the military, dedicating your life to protecting and serving the military is one of the most selfless things you can do,” he said.