A remarkable blend of individuals, organizations, and families are to thank for making our third annual escort to the US Open Tennis Championship a grand triumph. A couple of days’ worth of entertainment, special touches, and fun personalities cause this event to stand out in distinction.
On Sunday, September 2, Marine Sergeants Will, Herman, and Jack, and Army Specialist Will departed Walter Reed Medical Center in a deluxe stretch Lincoln Navigator bound for New York City. With Sergeant Will providing the soundtrack for the journey, Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind” blared from the limo speakers as it rolled stylishly into the Big Apple.
Once arrived at their accommodations—the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan—the band met other military folk. Army Sergeant Brian, Freedom Alliance grant recipient and tennis fanatic, was there, along with Marine Captain Bob. Robin Jones, our long-time US Tennis Association (USTA) contact, and her staff came out to greet the guys and officially commence the event.
Later that evening, Freedom Alliance friend Frank Casano hosted our ensemble for dinner at his classy downtown restaurant, Stella Manhattan Bistro, which features French, Argentinean, and Asian cuisine. In the private dining room, Mr. Casano’s seven-year-old granddaughter handed each of the soldiers a personal note she’d written herself, expressing her gratitude for their service. It was a thank-you that none will soon forget. Then Ricky, soon to be Mr. Casano’s son-in-law, serenaded with a welcome-home song he wrote as a tribute to the troops, inspired by his brother who is currently serving. (Watch the music video.)
Following the meal, the party was stunned by the appearance of an exquisite cake, created by Carlo’s Bake Shop, the bakery featured on the popular TLC television series Cake Boss. It was an edible to-scale model of the United States Marine Corps Memorial! Although a bit daunting to cut into, it was no problem to eat.
In the morning, the guys loaded into a Mercedes bus, courtesy the USTA, and headed out to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where Serena Williams would compete in day eight of the US Open. In a luxury suite at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the group met other wounded service members and socialized with various personages, including USTA chairman and president, Jon Vegosen, and the Wounded Warrior Regiment Commanding Officer, Colonel Willard Buhl.
After our soldiers were featured on the stadium jumbotron (as well as national television), a USTA staff person came up to the box with a bag of autographed tennis balls, a gift from the victor, Serena Williams, who wanted to thank the troops for coming to her game.
At the close of the competition, it was a trek across to Times Square, where Mrs. Jones and her daughter Aubrey hosted us for an Italian meal—a delicious end to a magnificent New York excursion.
“The entire experience was a complete success from start to finish,” said Sergeant Herman. “The wounded service members were all able to enjoy their new experiences and new friends thanks to Freedom Alliance and the USTA. We had a great time networking with fellow and retired military personnel…. I would jump at any future opportunities with either organization. Thank you, and Semper Fi, Freedom Alliance!”