EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Over 120 members of the Connecticut National Guard, State Militia and their families took part in pre-game ceremonies before the United States Men’s Soccer Team’s friendly against Peru at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, Oct. 16.
The group of volunteers were responsible for constructing a giant U.S. flag that covered nearly the entire field, then carrying it out and unfurling it as the National Anthem played in the background.
Arriving more than four hours prior to kickoff, Guardsmen met with officials from a company that specialize in oversized, on-the-field flag presentations. In a closed parking lot, the group worked for about an hour to piece the giant flag together, then carried it on to the field for a rehearsal.
The rehearsal, which was the first opportunity for many to step on the field the University of Connecticut Huskies football team calls home, served as an exercise in physical fitness for some (specifically those sprinting to unfurl the flag in a timely manner) and an exercise in comedy for others, as a couple of volunteers were not aware of how easy it was to get tripped up if you didn’t run in unison.
“I’m glad we got a chance to do this before show time,” said one volunteer.
After rehearsals, volunteers explored the stadium before other ticket-holders were allowed through the gates. Many took the opportunity to take photos with loved ones, buy merchandise or grab a hot dog.
“There was about a two-hour break between rehearsal and the final report time before we headed on the field,” Zambrano said. “It was getting colder and windier, but I didn’t hear a single complaint out of any Guardsman or family member. Everyone was truly happy to be there, happy to go to work, and happy to represent their country in such a unique way.”
As kickoff grew closer, Guard personnel reported to the tunnel where the flag had been staged and took their place, with one exception: Tech. Sgt. Dylan Platt, a member of the Connecticut Air National Guard’s Honor Guard and the 2017 Honor Guard Airman of the Year, was asked to serve as Honorary Captain for the game.
His duties? Bring the game ball to midfield and lead the two nations’ starting lineups to the center of the stadium. No pressure.
“I was pretty nervous at first, because walking out in front of thousands of people to deliver the game ball at a game for the United States soccer team is a heavy moment,” Platt said. “But when I came out of the tunnel, the whole crowd was just so receptive. It was a very cool moment.”
With over 24,000 in attendance, according to the stadium’s PA system, the cheers turned to song as the very pro-Peruvian crowd heard their national anthem played over the loudspeaker. Then, it was the home team’s turn to hear the anthem, and time for those who had been waiting for nearly five hours to have their moment.
As the anthem began to play, volunteers began to unfurl the flag, which took up more than half of the field. They began to wave the flag, and an impressive fireworks display closed out what had been a memorable day for those involved.
“Having the opportunity to represent my state and country in the National Guard is an honor,” 2nd Lt. Jaime Cabezas, Platoon Leader assigned to Charlie Company, 572nd Brigade Engineer Battalion, said. “Being on the field for the national anthems and having the chance to see the national soccer team of both nations I have called home, was a really special experience.”
It was the first time the United States Men’s National Soccer Team played in East Hartford since a July 2017 win over Ghana. More recently, the U.S. Women’s National Team drew 1-1 with Australia July 29, 2018.