Each season, in addition to the team’s year-round military appreciation and outreach, the Buffalo Bills pay special tribute to the United States Military during the Salute to Service game. In recognition of the NFL’s Salute to Service initiative, which honors and raises funds for current military members and veterans, the Bills celebrated all five branches of the military in a spectacular pregame ceremony prior to the Week 10 Saints game.
To kick off the awe-inspiring ceremony, members from the United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard were welcomed to the field. Recognized for their bravery, unwavering commitment to our country and dedication to protecting our freedom, the service members received an emotional round of applause from thousands of fans. The Bills also invited active and retired service members in the crowd to join in the salute by standing.
The moving ceremony continued, as United States Navy Airman First Class Christina Bagley sang “God Bless America.” Following the team introduction, Bagley, who serves as a vocalist for the Heritage of America Band’s Full Spectrum, made her way back to the field to perform the national anthem. During the beautiful rendition, spectators watched in amazement as a full-field flag unfurled and waved on cue.
The picturesque moment featured a military flyover by the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron NINE Tridents, based out of Norfolk, Virginia. Led by Commanding Officer Ryan Dexter, a Western New York native and longtime Bills fan, three of the squadron’s helicopters made their way over New Era Field.
“It was awesome,” said Commanding Officer Dexter. “It was one of the highlights of my career. It was awesome coming across the edge of the stadium and to see the flag down there was very neat.”
Commanding Officer Dexter, who attended his first Bills game when he was seven years old, was ecstatic at the opportunity to take part in the ceremony.
“We were out on the George H. W. Bush carrier doing some exercises and we got notice that they were looking for somebody to do the Bills game flyover,” explained Commanding Officer Dexter. “I immediately threw my hand in the air for us. We were able to work through our wing to get approval to come up. The crew had a fantastic time and they’re all big city of Buffalo fans now. The hospitality by the Bills organization was fantastic and on behalf of the rest of the squadron, we really appreciate it.”
Although the pregame festivities had concluded, the Bills had one more surprise in store. Walking out of the tunnel and onto the field, Bills Owner Terry Pegula presented Master Sergeant James Kozma of the United States Marine Corps with a service dog. The breathtaking moment captured the spirit of the day.
“To meet Mr. Pegula is a great honor,” said Master Sergeant Kozma when reflecting on the experience. “He’s done a lot for his community and having been born and raised here, it’s a really big deal for what he has done for his community…For him to present it the way it did, it was definitely a moment I won’t forget.”