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September 6, 2014 at 1:30pm

Armed Forces help Seattle Seahawks kick off the 2014-15 NFL Season

Washington National Guard receives high-fives before unveiling the Seattle Seahawks' new 80-foot Vince Lombardi Super Bowl banner. Photo credit: Gary Lott

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The Seattle Seahawks are World Champions, and now, in part with the military's help, have the banners up in CenturyLink Field to prove it.

The team made the military an integral part of its NFL Kickoff celebration Thursday as members from each branch took part in the National Anthem and the Super Bowl banner presentation as well as reenlistment and promotion ceremonies.

"The Seahawks and our fans recognize the essential role and amazing service provided by America's military personnel," said Seattle Seahawks Community Relations Vice President Mike Flood. "We're proud to feature service members from all branches as we display the World Championship banner and begin the 2014 NFL season."

The amount of inquiries for support has increased significantly with the Seahawks' super success. However, the organization continues to involve the military throughout the year - even in one of the most popular games of the entire NFL season. In fact, support is increasing.

"That effort will continue every year because it's our opportunity and duty to give back," Flood said. "Our coaches, players and staff have a year-round dedication to partnering (with) service members and supportive causes."

>>> U.S. Navy member LCDR Jay Hyler shows off the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl Championship Ring before his on-field promotion ceremony before the NFL Kickoff game against the Green Bay Packers Sept. 4. Photo credit: Gary Lott

>>> Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ballesteros is all smiles during his re-enlistment ceremony on the field of the Seattle Seahawks during their military pre-game celebration Thursday. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Flood and Seahawks Fan Development Assistant Director Armando Mejia lead the critical relationship between the Seahawks organization and the military. They work with bases throughout the Pacific Northwest to create new ideas every year, such as the 80-feet high Super Bowl banner, which was held by members of the Washington National Guard during the Seahawks NFL Kickoff game against the Green Bay Packers Sept. 4.

"It was really neat to see them unfold the Super Bowl banner in rehearsal, and it sent the message that we finally did it," said Spc. Josh Medford, JFHQ, 2-146 Artillery, Washington National Guard, prior to the game. "I've got a pretty critical role in the presentation, as I'm the one who grabs the flag by the top and walks it all the way down to the bottom."

>>> Fireworks burst into the sky as 50 members of the Washington National Guard hold a brand new 80-foot Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy banner during the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl celebration. Photo credit: Gary Lott

>>>Pop sensation Ariana Grande joins members of every service branch to sing the National Anthem before the Seattle Seahawks took on the Green Bay Packers. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Along with an on-the-field presence of the military this season, the Seahawks are also implementing a #SeahawksSalute campaign, which will feature photos of deployed service members demonstrating their "12th Man" spirit.

>>> Various members of military branches hold up a camouflage "12s" Flag during various military pre-game ceremonies. Photo credit: Gary Lott

The Seahawks organization is using the popularity of social media to enhance its connection between "12s" and the team, to include the military.

"One of our most recent programs is the Seahawks adopted military unit," Flood explained. "The Army was our first, in 2012, then the Air Force was last year, and now the Coast Guard will carry the football and "12 Flag" for 2014."

The selected unit participates in special team events and carries the "12 Flag" to locales worldwide throughout the season.

During the summer, the Seahawks made it a priority to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the "Heroes of 12 Tour" to bases across Washington state, to include last year's adopted unit at the 446thAirlift Wing.

"We made it a point to begin the Lombardi Trophy tour at military bases to demonstrate our appreciation for the selfless service they give to America," Flood said. "It was a pleasure for us to see the smiles of thousands of service members at every base on the trophy visit."

A large part of the #SeahawksSalute program success relies on servicemembers.

Medford said the Seahawks Salute is both important and fun. Thursday's game was Medford's first Seahawks event, but he's done similar salute ceremonies for both the Sounders and Mariners.

A variety of military involved events took place throughout the NFL Kickoff game.

"During our break ... we actually got a chance to watch Pharrell during his rehearsal," said Medford.  "He actually came right over and gave us high-fives and posed in several pictures for us."

Entertainment wasn't the only thing taking place on the field before the big game, however.

Now Navy Lt. Comdr. Jay Hyler was promoted directly on the field before the game and even had the honor of having his daughter pin on his new rank.

"It was such an honor to have my daughter alongside of me while I get promoted," Hyler said. "It's her first game ever, and she even got to try on a Super Bowl Ring.  How amazing is that?"

Along with Hyler's promotion, Army Capt. Paul Ballesteros re-enlisted during the pregame ceremonies.

"This is my home state, so it means a lot to me to re-enlist indefinitely," said Ballesteros, who has been a Seahawks fan since wearing a Steve Largent jersey when he was only 5 years old.

"I feel great about this event," he added. "This shows me that the Seahawks work well with the Army by providing amazing opportunities for a homegrown soldier such as myself to do something like this."

It's hard to forget one's first-ever NFL game.  It will be especially hard for Tech Sgt. Matt McKenna, who's stationed on the McChord side of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

It was his first Seahawks game, and he found himself standing only a few feet from pop sensation Ariana Grande while she performed the National Anthem.

McKenna recently received a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for his ground combat heroics in Afghanistan in 2012.

"It's incredibly humbling to receive this honor," he said of being awarded the medals. "It's really recognition of the team's work and combined efforts with the Army on one pretty tough day."

Stories such as McKenna's show the importance of supporting, showcasing and allowing the military to be a part of every Seattle Seahawks home game.

"We may not be able to touch everyone through Seahawks programs, but we will do our best to honor those who have given so much for the freedoms we enjoy," Flood said.  "We remain committed to dozens of programs that strive to help military personnel, veterans and their families."

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