Last Updated: 11/25/2013*

As biting winds whipped through Gillette Stadium, warmth, inspiration and gratitude filled Raytheon’s annual “Salute to Service” event.

The company hosted 150 veterans from its partner organizations, Student Veterans of America and Wounded Warrior Project before the highly anticipated Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots game.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft welcomed the crowd as they prepared to watch Peyton Manning face Tom Brady in the primetime showdown.

“I’m so happy that you’re here for this game tonight because of the special spirit and karma that you bring here to our great stadium,” said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft to attendees. “I think there are three groups of people that are underappreciated in our society, and they’re police and firemen, nurses, and people who serve in the armed services. We don’t give them the proper recognition and respect as a country…We thank you for all you do for our country.”

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft greets United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne at Raytheon’s ‘Salute to Service’ event. SSgt Mills was injured during his tour of duty in Afghanistan and is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft greets United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne at Raytheon’s ‘Salute to Service’ event. SSgt Mills was injured during his tour of duty in Afghanistan and is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries.

During the pre-game reception, veterans and their supporters met New England Patriots legend and Hall of Famer Gino Cappelletti, who reflected on their patriotism in service to the nation.

“They all are so positive,” he said of the veterans. “The ability to live and overcome is something I just have to sit back and admire. They are truly inspirational.”

Despite single-digit temperatures, a number of veterans battled the elements to be honored on field prior to kickoff.

“It’s an overwhelming experience,” said Patrick Cornell, 27, of Salem State University, who’s currently serving in the Massachusetts National Guard as a staff sergeant. “Being able to go out and see a stadium flooded with people who are supportive of veterans is extremely heartwarming.”

Patrick Cornell interacted with fellow veterans at Raytheon's 'Salute to Service' event at Gillette Stadium.
Patrick Cornell interacted with fellow veterans at Raytheon’s ‘Salute to Service’ event at Gillette Stadium.

Now a business management major and member of Salem State’s Student Veterans Organization, Cornell first joined the U.S. Army in 2004 and served three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan before retiring from active duty in 2011. He always knew that he was going to join the armed services because his two older brothers had and inspired him to do the same.

“It’s what my family does,” Cornell said. “This is my childhood dream, and I lived that dream out.”

Attending the event for a second year, Rob Chester, 27, said nothing is better than trying on one of the Patriots’ Super Bowl rings, which are on display at The Hall, and enjoying the company of other veterans.

“One thing I learned in the military is to appreciate the small things in life,” said the graduate student at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology who is pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology. “Being from Ohio, I’m actually a Cleveland Browns fan, but I always look forward to a good game.”

U.S. Army veteran Eric Millette of Jacksonville, Fla., joined Wounded Warrior Project Alumni and other members of the armed services in a pre-game flag ceremony at the New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
U.S. Army veteran Eric Millette of Jacksonville, Fla., joined Wounded Warrior Project Alumni and other members of the armed services in a pre-game flag ceremony at the New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.

Throughout the month of November, Raytheon has encouraged sharing messages of gratitude, appreciation and support for veterans via social media through the hashtag #HT4H (Hashtags4Heroes).

Attending the reception on behalf of Wounded Warrior Project, Steven Bohn, 26, of Salem, Mass., was injured in Afghanistan in 2008; the organization has helped him more than he could ever imagine.

“They saved my life,” Bohn said. “I wouldn’t be here without them.”

Wounded Warrior Project Alumni Steve Bohn and his guest Julie Skerry arrive at Raytheon’s ‘Salute to Service’ event at the New England Patriots-Denver Broncos football game on Nov. 24. (Photo Raytheon Company)
Wounded Warrior Project Alumni Steve Bohn and his guest Julie Skerry arrive at Raytheon’s ‘Salute to Service’ event at the New England Patriots-Denver Broncos football game on Nov. 24. (Photo Raytheon Company)

As the nation prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving, the veterans are thankful for their military experiences and how those opportunities have positively changed their lives.

“It taught me the importance of life,” said veteran attendee Greg Card, 33, of Concord N.H. “It’s the value of every single day. Enjoy it and live it to the best you possibly can.”

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