First lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden launched "Joining Forces", a nationwide initiative to mobilize all citizens to recognize, honor and support military families. The program aims to "inspire, educate and spark action from all sectors of society -- citizens, communities, businesses, non-profits, faith-based institutions, philanthropic organizations and government -- to ensure veterans and military families have the opportunities, resources and support they have earned. It also showcases the skills, experience and dedication of America's veterans and military spouses to create greater connections between the American public and the military."
For the Nationals, the partnership is a natural extension of the various military-focused initiatives the club undertakes on a regular basis. From the military tribute at each home game to player visits with "Wounded Warriors" to the "Me and a Friend" program launched during the 2010 season, the military has been a focus of the Nationals' outreach efforts since the team relocated to D.C. in 2005.
"The Washington Nationals continue to develop new opportunities to honor service members and their families," Nationals principal owner Mark D. Lerner said. "We are proud to support them and want to ensure they feel as though they are a part of the Nationals family."
In addition to a special on-field pregame ceremony that featured Obama with children of military families, the first lady took part in the military tribute after the third inning, a Nationals gameday tradition. The team also debuted a public-service announcement (PSA) featuring the first lady and several Nationals players. Fans can also view the PSA on nationals.com.
Supporting "Joining Forces" is the team's latest effort in implementing programs that benefit members of the military and their families. Other initiatives include:
Third-inning military tribute
The Nationals offer at least 29 premium seats in the Lexus Presidents Club for select military groups during every game, providing a special experience for veterans, active service members and their families. These exclusive tickets include a gourmet buffet, complimentary in-seat food and beverage service and a view of the underground batting cages and postgame news conference. This select group of honorees is recognized on NatsHD at the end of the third inning and receives a standing ovation from fans and players alike in appreciation of their service.
Team's visits to military hospitals
Since the Nationals arrived in 2005, the team regularly visits Walter Reed Army Medical Center to meet with wounded service members, and in '10, the club became the first Washington-area sports team to visit National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Last season, more than 20 players and coaches participated in visits to Walter Reed and the Medical Center.
Me and a Friend Program
In association with the Department of Defense and the USO, the Nationals created this unique program to recognize the extraordinary challenges that military children face as they continually relocate due to their parents' military assignments.
The Nationals provide tickets to children of active-duty service members for every Sunday game of the season, giving them the opportunity to use the free tickets to connect with peers and help them make new friends. The group receives a visit from the Nationals mascot -- Screech -- and are first in line for the "Kids Run the Bases" event after the game.
The Nationals were the first to partner with the USO on the "Me and a Friend" program, which is rapidly expanding as the USO joins with other athletic and cultural organizations throughout the country.
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)
TAPS provides 24/7 resources for those who have been deeply affected by the loss of a loved one in military service. The Nationals provide complimentary tickets throughout the year in an effort to provide a fun and supportive environment as the group is brought together to connect and heal.
Discounted game tickets
Military service members receive deeply discounted Nationals tickets that are available only to them. Tickets can be purchased through MWR and ITT offices at area bases and the Pentagon, most of which also include a food and beverage credit to further reduce the total cost of the outing.
In addition, during the past two years, more than 48,000 Nationals tickets have been donated to military- and veteran-related groups. The club has also continuously donated memorabilia and experiential packages to raise funds for charities that benefit service members and their families.
The Nationals have designated a series of games during which the team will feature special ticket offers to encourage fans to celebrate the American spirit by enjoying the national pastime at Nationals Park. The Patriotic Series dates for 2011 include:
May 2: Military Appreciation Day
May 31: Memorial Day
July 4: Independence Day
Sept. 5: Labor Day
Sept. 11: Heroes Day
Because these dates have such a strong military connection, much of the on-field programming will be dedicated to honoring service members and their families. During these games, Nationals players will wear their special Stars and Stripes uniform to pay tribute to American servicemen and servicewomen.
In recognition of their continued service to this country, the Nationals will donate tickets to service members and their families, as well as police officers and firefighters, on select Patriotic Days during the season.