'Thank you for serving, enjoy the game.'
By 1st Lt. Nathan Wallin, 128th ARW
/ Published April 05, 2013
Milwaukee -- The sign on the wall backstage at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, home to the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, was explicit and unambiguous: "No hard soled shoes allowed on the court." Security staff and ushers lining the perimeter of the basketball court kept a close eye on anyone who got too close to the hallowed hardwood. However in this instance an exception to the rule was permitted.
Clad in his "multi-cam" tan and green camouflage uniform and wearing his hard-soled combat boots, Senior Airman Jefferson Harkleroad strode out to center court and handed the official game ball to Milwaukee Bucks team captain, point guard Monta Ellis.
Harkleroad, an Air Force electrician with Milwaukee's 128th Air Refueling Wing's Civil Engineering Squadron, was selected for the event by the Bucks and their corporate partner Waukesha Metal Products as part of their "Hardwood Homecoming" program. The program recognizes military members on the court during a pre-game ceremony and provides them tickets to the game. Harkleroad recently returned home from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan where he was responsible for structural construction and maintenance projects at Bagram Airfield.
"You want to keep these guys in the forefront, to know that they're being supported," said WMP's Michael Steger.
John F. Steinmiller, Milwaukee Bucks Vice President of Business Operations, echoed Steger's sentiment. "It's very important because they [disrupt] their lives, they leave their families to serve us, protecting our freedoms," he said.
Just after Harkleroad handed Ellis the game ball, he and Steger shook hands with the basketball players and referees at the center of the basketball court. As the group exchanged pleasantries, the public address announcer' s voice boomed over the arena's speakers, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Milwaukee Bucks and Waukesha Metal Products are joining forces to honor and recognize the brave men and women who serve... the salute continues tonight when the Bucks honor Wisconsin National Guardsman, Senior Airman Jefferson Harkleroad. An Air Force electrician serving in the Civil Engineering Squadron at Milwaukee's 128th Air Refueling Wing, Harkleroad recently deployed to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan..."
During the ceremony Ellis and Barea signed a pair of special souvenir basketballs for Harkleroad and Steger. The athletes and referees also conveyed their appreciation for the military to the Airman. "They said, 'Thanks for doing what you do, for serving, and enjoy the game,'" Harkleroad said.
As two men wearing basketball uniforms showed respect to one man wearing a military uniform, the crowd rose to their feet and gave the 25-year-old Airman a respectful round of applause. Harkleroad, the center of attention, hardly had time to hear the cheers of gratitude and absorb the enormity of it all.
"I didn't see anything or hear anything," he said as he blushed with pride.