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Morrow recognized for donations to soldiers

Sunday, 03.29.2009 / 7:58 PM / Feature
By John Tranchina
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Morrow recognized for donations to soldiers

He may not have pulled a jersey over his head since mid-November, but Dallas Stars left winger Brenden Morrow still inspires those around him.

Morrow has been quietly donating four lower-level season tickets that he purchased out of his own pocket to benefit the Operation Once in a Lifetime organization, which helps provide assistance to various U.S. military personnel.

So in appreciation of his season-long gift that keeps on giving, Saturday night before the Stars’ contest against Florida at the American Airlines Center, Sgt. Patrick Sowers, the President and founder of Operation Once in a Lifetime, along with several servicemen and women and their families attending the game in Morrow’s seats, presented the injured Stars captain with a nice souvenir of his own. 

Morrow, who has recently begun skating on his own following months of rehab from reconstructive surgery on the torn ACL in his right knee, received a plaque with a Civil War-era pistol mounted on it, containing the inscription, “The men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces would like to thank Brenden Morrow for his generosity and for making the dreams of soldiers and their families come true.” Also included with the plaque was a set of dog tags for Morrow that included a similar message.

Morrow, who has at times been compared to a field general leading his troops into battle, was humbled by the presentation and point out who the real heroes are.

“You hear about it from afar, but it’s nice to get to meet some of these people and show your appreciation for all the work they’re doing for us,” Morrow said. “You don’t hear about all their stories every day, but just to see them in person, it brings it a little closer to home.” 

Sgt. Sowers wanted to make sure Morrow’s contributions were recognized, because he sees just how much it means to the soldiers who benefit from the opportunity to get away from the unique stresses of the military life and enjoy a night out.

“These are awe-inspiring moments and that’s why we definitely wanted to give Brenden an award,” said Sowers, who spent eight years in the service himself and began Operation Once in a Lifetime about two years ago. “Soldiers are always awarded and thanked for their service, but they never thank the people that thank us, that are on our side and we just wanted to show our appreciation, because as we fight for them, they’re fighting for us. And we realize they don’t have to do this, they choose to do it. And we just want to honor him and thank him for choosing us.”

The relationship between the Stars and Operation Once in a Lifetime actually began last season, when former Stars center Jeff Halpern donated a group of upper-level tickets. But after Halpern was traded last February to Tampa Bay in the deal that brought Brad Richards to Dallas, Morrow stepped in, and by providing lower level seats this year, made the experience even more special for the soldiers.

“I think we all have had an opportunity, the situation we’re in, to be involved and it was just a small gesture,” Morrow said, typically downplaying his role in the process. “An ex-teammate, Halpern, was involved in it and he moved on and the Stars approached me about it and I jumped on the opportunity.”

Sowers also pointed out that while to us regular civilians, attending a Stars game may just be a nice evening out, to these servicemen and women, who are also provided with free transportation and hotel accommodations after the game, courtesy of Operation Once in a Lifetime, the experience is much more profound than just a hockey game.

“As soldiers, we can tell you, these events mean a lot,” Sowers said. “We recently had a soldier that came back from Iraq that witnessed some children being killed due to a suicide bombing and it was a really mentally hard thing for him. He suffered from severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), had thoughts of suicide - we got tickets from Brenden, he came up here with his wife and two kids, went to the game and it just changed his entire outlook, watching his kids smile and to be in a social environment like this. It’s much more than a game, these are life-changing moments - some people don’t realize that, but they are. It’s providing once in a lifetime events for soldiers, to help boost their morale, give them an overall great time that hopefully will change their lives forever. These events do that. They strengthen any kind of doubt, ‘No one’s watching, no one cares.’ That’s probably the biggest thing to a soldier, thinking that people have forgotten and they’re at a Stars game and they forget that.”

Sowers noted how simple things like when one soldier is recognized each game during a stoppage of play, for which he usually receives a standing ovation from the American Airlines Center crowd, means so much to all of them.

“The Stars, as well as Brenden, honor a soldier every game, and this shows that the Stars have never forgotten,” Sowers said. “Even when they recognize that one soldier, even the soldiers sitting in Brenden’s seats and seeing that, they’re proud, it makes them feel good for what they do. A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to see soldiers or thank soldiers, and so when they do - especially what I’ve witnessed with the soldiers up in the Platinum level. You get all these people coming up, saying, ‘Let me buy you a drink, let me get your son a souvenir,’ like that’s their way of giving back. That kind of support, that moment, that’s just something you can’t get going to a psychiatrist or to any kind of medical installation, to get that true, honest gesture of thank you.”

In addition to helping soldiers and their loved ones attend Stars games through Morrow’s donation, Operation Once in a Lifetime, based in the suburb of Allen, has helped out many other military families in even more substantial ways. Primarily through charitable donations, the organization has provided funds for some servicemen and women to return ‘home’ before being deployed overseas, or by helping one soldier pay for his mother-in-law’s funeral or even by helping a servicewoman fix her family’s car brake system.

“It’s gotten bigger than just the sporting events,” Sowers explained. “It’s gone to flying soldiers home for free, providing financial assistance for soldiers in need. We, as an organization, we’re made up of soldiers and we wanted to create an organization that helps every soldier, not just the wounded - an E5, an E9, an E1, Army, Air Force, Marines. We wanted to be there, because there’s several unique situations that soldiers and their families go through. That’s one of the unique parts of the ticket program Brenden does - it’s not just for the soldiers. You have two soldiers and their spouses come. You had a soldier who brought his kids and as a parent, there’s nothing better than seeing your child smile.”

For more details on Operation Once in a Lifetime, including information on how to make donations, please visit www.operationonceinalifetime.com.  

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