SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- For more than a decade, all 73,778 seats of the Carolina Panthers, Bank of America Stadium have been sold out.
This season, however, eight seats are reserved in honor of the United States military. For the first time in National Football League history, a special "Row of Honor" was created to pay tribute to American Service members, including a blacked-out POW/MIA chair, which will remain empty. The other seven seats feature a digital camouflage pattern with all service insignias emblazoned on the back, two of which are set aside for a Purple Heart recipient and their guest. During the Nov. 3, 2013 football game against the Atlanta Falcons, five Airmen from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base were selected to fill these special seats. "It means a lot to be honored at the game," said Tech. Sgt. Librian Stephens, a 4th Maintenance Group leading standardization section team member. "It really shows the support North Carolina and the country have for the military."
Stephens and his wife, Tech. Sgt. Lanika Stephens, a 4th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons standardization specialist, attended the game along with Airmen 1st Class Gregory Bowers, a 4th Medical Support Squadron medical technician, Dantrell Hunt, a 4th AMXS aviation resource manager and Noah Lazurka, a 4th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels lab technician. According to Peter Vacho, a Carolina Panthers team representative, servicemembers from each military branch will be selected in rotation to fill the seats as honorees. The Airmen were given access to the sidelines for the entire pregame and had the opportunity to get up close with a few of the players. Prior to the game's kick-off, the group was announced to the packed stadium. The resulting cheer was thunderous. "When they announced us before the game, the whole stadium stood up and applauded," Lazurka said. "It was nice to be appreciated and see the community give back; definitely a great experience." The five Airmen were selected by the USO of North Carolina and the Carolina Panthers organization for their service. "The USO has done a lot to support us," Librian said. "Without their dedication, events like this wouldn't be possible. They do so much to give back to our troops on a daily basis."