NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Nearly 300 troops who couldn't make it home for the holidays spent the day at a Stingrays hockey game. The United Service Organization teams up with Verizon Wireless annually to give the holdover troops some holiday cheer.
For some of the troops stationed at Fort Jackson in Columbia, it's their first holiday season away from home.
"At the beginning it's not an easy thought or an easy experience, but once you get through it, you have your battle buddies you have everyone and you're not alone," says 21-year-old Andrew Lopez who is stationed at Fort Jackson.
Lopez is from Puerto Rico, and today he was ready for something new.
"This is the first time that I've been to a hockey game, so it's going to be an amazing experience for me," says Lopez.
It's an experience the United Service Organizations (USO) loves to make happen.
"They tell us, 'why would they do this for us...you don't know me?' Well we do know you, you're wearing the uniform and you're protecting all of us so that we could be here today," says Director of USO of South Carolina, Joanie Thresher. "So without them doing what they do, we couldn't do what we do."
The USO has partnered with Verizon Wireless for this event for about 4 years.
"Some troops can't make it home for a variety of reasons," says Verizon Spokesperson, Karen Schulz. "Either they don't have time off, or they can't afford to get home for the holidays, some don't have a home to get to."
Eighteen-year-old, Chris Mejia is stationed at Fort Jackson. He says it's great to feel that support.
"You know seeing all these people... seeing us and applauding, it makes me feel more prideful to be in the army," says Mejia.
"And the fans come out every year just because the troops are here in addition to wanting to come see the Stingrays, they love being part of this day," says Thresher.
The troops say they're thankful for the opportunity to be at the game today, especially this time of year.
"You miss your family obviously at the beginning, but you meet people and it makes the time go faster and it's fun like the whole time," says Mejia.