Vikings and United Heroes League hosted a flag football tournament for children of military families at Camp Ripley.
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. — Alexander Mattison threw passes in one corner of the gym while Ben Gedeon led kids through an obstacle course.
The duo were among a quartet of Vikings players who brought smiles and an afternoon of fun to military families last Tuesday afternoon at Camp Ripley, a military training facility operated by the Minnesota National Guard.
Gedeon and fellow linebacker Cameron Smith, long snapper Austin Cutting and Mattison, a running back, partnered with the United Heroes League on the afternoon as roughly 50 children of active military members ran through football drills and interacted with players the day after Veterans Day.
"I had a lot of fun coming out here and seeing smiles on the kids' faces," Mattison said "It brings a lot of joy to me, especially knowing this is a special environment and this is a special thing they have going on here."
Added Cutting: "I know it means more to them than it meant to us, and it meant a lot to us."
Chilly weather forced the event inside, where each player manned a station and interacted with kids. Smith threw passes at his station, while Cutting's crew took handoffs and avoided tackling dummies.
"This really does bring energy to all of us. Sometimes you forget what it was like to be a kid," Smith said. "To the kids, it means everything. It was a just a great day."
Gedeon quipped: "The kids were saying it was the best station of the four. I like to think I had something to do with that."
The players posed for pictures and signed autograph after the hour-long event, giving them a chance to personally interact with service members from various branches and their children.
Cutting graduated from the Air Force Academy this spring, while Gedeon's brother, Sam, is currently serving in the Navy. Mattison's father and grandfathers served in the Air Force, and an uncle was in the Army.
"Being able to be here in person and see their reactions … being in the Air Force, you kind of connect on a different level outside of sports," Cutting said. "You talk about things that mean a lot to them and also mean a lot to me."
Added Gedeon: "Obviously with a family member [in the military], this hits close to home. You like to thank them when you can."
Smith said: "This is something that is serious to us. We wouldn't be able to do what we do on a regular basis if it wasn't for them. It feels good to be here and do what we can to give back."
National Guard SFC Brandon Johnson described his appreciation for the players' support.
"We love it. We see it on TV all the time," Johnson said. "And then … for them to take time out of their day to come up and say, 'Thank you' … it means a lot."
Johnson's 9-year-old daughter, Amber, said she had "a lot" of fun meeting the players.
The Vikings partnered with the United Heroes League on the event. UHL helps kids who have parents in the military get involved with sports through equipment donation, tickets to games, camps and grants.
"This is awesome to be able to partner with the Vikings and put on a camp for military kids here at Camp Ripley," said Mike Kennedy, the Vice President of Marketing for UHL. "We always enjoy partnering with the Vikings … and you can tell the kids really appreciate it."
SSG Tim Krouth, the community relations specialist at Camp Ripley, said there was plenty of buzz around the base in the days leading up to the event.
"As a solider myself, it means a lot that the Vikings are willing to take time on their day off after a huge game down in Dallas," Krouth said. "To take the time away from their families and their lifestyle and come and spend time with us and our kids, it means a lot to all of us."
A day full on fun and smiles was then capped off with a surprise, as Scheels donated $50 gift cards to every child in attendance.
"The partnership with the Vikings has grown over the years, and we're really appreciative of that," Kennedy said. "But we also appreciate the generosity of Scheels to donate and give the kids the gift cards. It is incredible."
And for the quartet of Vikings players, they left feeling with an extra sense of gratitude and appreciation for those they met at Camp Ripley.
"This was a great event, and you could tell by the smiles on the kids' faces how much fun they had," Gedeon said. "I think all four of us were just happy we could be involved.
"We have a ton of respect for those who are serving and those who have served," Gedeon added. "They give us the opportunity to play the game we love. It's important we honor them."
Local military veterans were hosted at the Vikings Museum in recognition of Veterans Day. The men and women were thanked for their service by Vikings Legends Mike Harris and Gene Washington.
Polaris & Vikings Help Wounded Warrior Project | By Lindsey Young
When U.S. military veterans Brian Bergson and Jake Schmidt were invited by Wounded Warrior Project for a day of ATV trail-riding through Polaris Adventures in Northern Minnesota, they jumped at the opportunity.
But little did they know, that wasn't all that was in store.
Bergson and Schmidt were surprised one morning this fall when another ATV came around the corner driven by Vikings tight end Tyler Conklin and long snapper Austin Cutting.
"It's quite an honor to be able to come out and have some fun and kind of forget about my troubles and just have a really great time with some brothers," Bergson said. "It was an incredible day."
Cutting, who graduated from the Air Force Academy this spring, and Conklin, who has a close friend serving in the Air Force, enjoyed the chance to show gratitude to Bergson and Schmidt.
"Going through the Air Force Academy teaches you a lot about character and discipline, and being able to follow in the footsteps of those that came before you," Cutting said. "It's an honor to come out here and honor them for what they've done."
The two veterans were thanked for their service and gifted with Vikings and Polaris swag bags as well as tickets in the Polaris Club for the Vikings game against the Broncos, where they were recognized on the field.
Salute to Service Nominee | By Craig Peters
Vikings Director of Security Kim Klawiter is this year's nominee for the league-wide Salute to Service Award and was selected as the Honorary Captain before Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos. The comeback victory even landed Klawiter a spot in the "Big-Head Mode" photo gallery that follows Vikings wins.
View images of the Vikings in Big-Head Mode as they took on the Denver Broncos at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The former Army Master Sgt. is in his 14th season with the Vikings, an organization he's followed since its inception in 1961 when he was growing up in White Bear Lake.
By the end of the decade, Klawiter was on his way to Vietnam, a 20-year old in the Army who progressed from basic training to advanced infantry training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, to leadership training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Klawiter was assigned to Cu Chi, Vietnam, an area northwest of Saigon known for a tunnel system that posed hidden hazards.
"We had a lot of issues with people popping out of trap holes and ambushing us, so we had to be extra careful," Klawiter recalled.
May 9, 1969, presented Company D, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry with heavy fire from machine guns. Klawiter responded and was awarded a Bronze Star medal for heroism.
In addition to the Bronze Star, Klawiter received multiple other awards that included a Purple Heart, an air medal for 25 or more combat assaults by helicopter, an Army commendation medal and Vietnam campaign and service medals.
Show of thanks
Viktor the Viking doesn't really talk, so instead of saying thank you, he crafted a special jersey to show his appreciation for our members of the military: