By Melanie Rossi
GREEN BAY – Operation Fan Mail, a program which honors veterans and active members of the military before each Packers home game, is entering its 17th season.
The program has hosted 176 families since 2007.
The selection process begins, as the name suggests — with fan mail.
Interested friends or family members hoping to honor someone they know have the opportunity to write an essay, of 500 words or less, to be considered for the program.
“We’ll get submissions from roughly 200 people a year,” Matt Ward, partnership services coordinator for the Packers, said. “They are Packers fans, and they are nominating either a family member, a community member or a neighbor.”
For the nine or 10 military members and their families who get honored at home games each year, they get the chance to walk through the players’ tunnel, watch the pre-game activities from the sidelines and stand on the field at the fifty yard line as their accomplishments get presented on the video board.
After being saluted, each member then gets four tickets to watch the game with their families or friends.
Coreen Dicus-Johnson, president and CEO of Network Health, who will present the award for the first time this year said “It’s just a great opportunity to be recognized for what they’ve given to our country and the sacrifices they’ve made on our behalf. We want to make it a special once in a life experience, and that’s really important to us at Network Health.”
For the Packers, Operation Fan Mail allows them to acknowledge their military fans even beyond the NFL’s “Salute to Service” month.
“A good portion of our fans have served in the military, and we want to make sure that we acknowledge not only all of our fans but those military members,” Ward said. “I think what’s unique about Operation Fan Mail is that as these military members are overseas, they’re not able to attend a lot of games obviously because they’re off stationed in different places, and they’re keeping in touch with us on TV, watching the games at very different times, listening on the radio. So when we have a chance to provide them tickets to come to the stadium, it’s always a unique part of it.”
“Network Health shares our passion for the military and honoring those that have served. Our process when we’re looking at partners to get involved with, one of those first conversations is what are things they’re passionate about, and how do those align with things we are equally as passionate about — and the military was one of those pieces.”
By partnering with the Packers, Network Health is able to exemplify their mission: creating healthy and strong Wisconsin communities.
“I don’t know what a stronger sentiment of strength and community could be,” Dicus-Johnson said. “We are so honored to be able to support the Packers, but in particular, the families of veterans and the veterans themselves and to have a platform to be able to do that.”
Nominated by family or friends, the military members themselves have the opportunity to be honored for their service, even when they “don’t really feel like they need to be,” Ward said.
“A lot of the times when these military members, when they join the military, they look at it as their duty, and they’re not necessarily looking to be honored for it, so that’s the unique piece of this program — that it’s always family members or friends or community members who are nominating them for their service and different impacts that they’ve had on them. It’s just a unique opportunity to honor those who don’t really feel like they need to be honored.”
And for their sacrifice and support of their loved ones, the families also have the chance to be recognized.
Dicus-Johnson said, “They get to put together an essay that tells their story, and then when they get to the game they get to be recognized for their story — whether it’s the veteran or the family of a veteran.”
Anyone interested can send essays to Operation Fan Mail, P.O. Box 10628, Green Bay, WI, 54307-0628, or online at packers.com/Lambeau-field/operation-fan-mail.