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U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brian Vogt has traveled around the world serving his country, first in Korea from 2000 to 2001 then in Iraq in April 2003 and again in January 2005.
Forced to leave his wife and daughter behind, Vogt, who currently serves at Fort Eustis, needed a coping mechanism to deal with the separation from his family.
For Vogt, that comfort came from a hat – a hat shaped like a block of cheese, to be specific.
A Wisconsin native, Vogt grew up a Green Bay Packers fan and is a shareholder of the team. A Packers fan through and through, Vogt always kept his cheesehead present whether stationed in different states or countries.
His service in the military and his dedication to the Packers earned Vogt the experience of a lifetime on Sunday, as he was recognized in front of 78,432 fans at Lambeau Field as a part of Operation Fan Mail.
The program, which debuted in 2007, recognizes military families at each Packers home game. Selected families also receive $150 Packers Pro Shop gift card and four tickets to the game near the 50-yard line.
In order to be selected for Operation Fan Mail, friends or relatives of active service members submit an essay of 500 words or less that describes why a particular family should be saluted.
Vogt’s wife of 19 years, Kimberly, decided to submit an essay for the contest, partly because she believed her husband deserved to be recognized, but also to thank the Packers organization for being an important part of her husband’s life.
“Throughout Brian’s career, he has been able to stay connected to his hometown and family through the Packers,” she wrote in her essay. “While I would love to have him selected through Operation Fan Mail, it is more important to me to let you know how very special the Packers and the NFL has been [sic] to Brian and our family. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart.”
The essay paid off when, weeks later, the Vogt family received a notice from the Packers saying they had been selected for Operation Fan Mail and were being invited to the Packers’ Oct. 11 home game against the St. Louis Rams.
While on his tours of duty, the Packers helped Vogt feel at home despite being in dangerous situations. Sitting down to watch his favorite players sprint around the football field for three-and-a-half hours was a meaningful escape from his surroundings.
Though located in different time zones throughout his career, Vogt never hesitated to stay up at odd hours to watch his beloved Packers play. While leading a tank company of 76 soldiers and 14 M1A1 tanks in Iraq, Vogt made a habit of reading Packer reports to his fellow soldiers and even taught his Iraqi interpreter about American football and the Packers.
“It becomes great conversation with all the soldiers,” Vogt said. “Guys talk about what happened in the game, and you can form a bond with other soldiers by talking about something that’s completely separate from what you’re doing every day.”
Even when Vogt communicated with his family, the Packers always managed to come up in conversation. Eventually, his wife and daughters knew to be prepared to chat about football. No matter where Vogt was stationed, the Packers were always on his mind.
Thanks to the Packers, Vogt got a drastically different viewing experience last Sunday than the one he was accustomed to while on active duty overseas.
While in Green Bay, Vogt was treated to a day he never dreamed of after spending long nights crowded around an undersized TV in Baghdad to watch the Packers play.
On Sunday, Vogt, his wife and their two daughters, Allison and Emily, arrived at Lambeau Field around 9 a.m. on what Vogt said was a near-perfect day for football in Wisconsin — a cool 50 degrees and sunny. In typical game-day fashion, tailgaters with over-sized grills and tricked out RVs were already packing the parking lots and grilling up various meats.
After being overtaken by the aroma of grills and grabbing a bite to eat, the family was greeted by a representative of the Packers organization, who led them to the tunnel that leads to the field at Lambeau Field.
Before the National Anthem, Vogt and his family were introduced and were displayed on the Jumbotron inside the stadium. When the University of Wisconsin marching band performed the National Anthem, Vogt and his family were positioned in front of the band at the 50-yard line.
A surreal moment for Vogt was being on the field during player introductions. After looking up to the players for so many years and keeping tabs on each injury and status update, Vogt was suddenly surrounded by them.
“These Packers that my daughter and I talk about, those players were really right there in front of us. That was really cool,” he said.
Vogt also got an extra surprise when he was preparing to exit the field before kickoff.
“When we came off the field, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy made a special effort to walk over and shake my hand as I came off the field,” Vogt said.
With the pregame festivities out of the way, Vogt and his family made their way to their reserved seats near the 50-yard line to watch the Packers defeat the Rams 24-10.
Even though Sunday was not his first visit to Lambeau Field — Vogt had been there to watch games three times prior — he was delighted to be with his wife and daughters for their first game at the field.
Moreover, being recognized and appreciated by the organization that provided him so much comfort during dangerous tours of duty overseas was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for which he is extremely grateful.
“I never dreamed this would happen. I think it speaks volumes about how the Packers organization wants to stay connected to the community and fans,” he said. “It’s not all about players scoring touchdowns. Watching Aaron Rodgers throw a touchdown pass is always exhilarating, but there’s something bigger than that.”