Magic, L3Harris Honor Fallen Soldiers and Bring Awareness to Combat Stress

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - Each Orlando Magic player during the national anthem prior to Sunday’s game against the Houston Rockets held up a jersey that had a name of a fallen U.S. soldier listed on the back. Point guard Chasson Randle’s jersey had McKeever on the one in his hands.

That was in honor of David McKeever, a U.S. Army specialist who died in combat in 2004 in Iraq. Niki McKeever, his wife, and son, Dylan, now 18 who was just a year old at the time of his father’s death, were at the game to receive that jersey and take part in the Magic and L3Harris’ 17th annual Seats for Soldiers Night.

They were among the many families in attendance who have lost someone in the line of duty or from post-combat suicide. Also there was Jose Belen, a U.S. Army combat veteran himself who founded Mission Zero, a Florida-based organization aimed at ending the PTSD and veteran suicide epidemic.

Like David McKeever, Belen was in Iraq during the war. He did three years of active duty service and was in combat most of that time. Understanding what other veterans and their families are going through, he felt it in his heart to create what he describes as a “veteran ecosystem” that targets education and advocacy campaigns, spearheads suicide prevention efforts, organizes family support initiatives, helps business owners expand their veterans outreach and hiring programs, and runs veteran coaching programs.

“Mission Zero stands as an organization to bring the unity back in the community,” Belen said. “What I learned in the war is that the team element wins battles. That there is no glory in doing it alone. That if we accomplish our goal, we should accomplish it in unison.”

Every 65 to 72 minutes in the U.S., research shows, a military veteran commits suicide. For a long time, the problem was viewed as unsolvable. However, Belen, who went through his own personal struggles following returning from war, believes people and resources together can help our country’s heroes recover from their invisible wounds.

A couple years ago, Belen reached out to the Magic to ask for their support. They welcomed him and his organization with open arms. In 2019, the Magic hosted Mission Zero’s first Veteran Nights Out, which aimed to build a community of support that saves lives while providing an ongoing system of engagement through technology. Not only did the night’s events make resources available, it provided veterans with an opportunity to connect with others in the community and restore the brotherhood/sisterhood often lost after transition.

“The Orlando Magic has shown that by taking my call two years ago, saying ‘hey listen, I’m new at this, I’m fighting for a cause. If you put your heart first, we can do something beautiful,’” he recalls. “It’s been two years going, but it’s my firm belief that the most important thing that we can do as human beings, knowing when people are struggling, that if we are in positions to help or to make someone else’s dreams come true before our own, so be it because the spirit of an American, and I learned this in war, is that you put your neighbor before you if you need help.”

It’s organizations like Mission Zero and the Magic that have helped console veterans and grieving families. The McKeevers are one of those families. Connecting with others who have gone through the same pain and anguish makes a big difference in the coping process.

“It’s very helpful,” Niki McKeever said. “When it happened, I felt so alone. I didn’t know what I was going to do. To have someone like Jose doing this and keeping us connected so his memory is never forgotten means the world to me. It’s just amazing to know that there are other people out there going through similar situations and you are not alone.”

Tickets were given to 450 active and retired military personnel and their families for Sunday’s game courtesy of the Magic, L3Harris and season ticket holders who donated their seats for the occasion. Seats for Soldiers participating military outfits included Marines: 6th Marines Corps District, Tampa; Army – Orlando, Navy – NTAG Jacksonville, Air Force – MacDill, Coast Guard – Cape Canaveral & Cutter Skipjack.

Honoring our nation’s heroes during the pregame ceremony while holding up jerseys with fallen soldiers’ names on them meant a great deal to the Magic’s coaches and players. Cole Anthony, whose grandfather was in the military, was happy to be a part of the festivities and show his appreciation for their bravery and commitment.

“I just have a lot of respect for people who serve this country,” he said. “It was definitely an awesome moment. I’m very glad we were able to do that.”

L3Harris and the Magic also provided two hospitality suites during the game for Central Florida military personnel. In addition, Levy Restaurants supplied complimentary food and beverage for each suite and Anheuser-Busch and City Beverages Orlando provided a complimentary 12 oz. Budweiser to all military members in attendance.

"In this very trying and difficult year, the Orlando Magic are honored to recognize all of the brave women and men who sacrifice so much in service of our great country," Magic CEO Alex Martins said. "We are proud to partner with L3Harris for the 17th season to thank and recognize those in uniform - including those we’ve lost, our veterans, along with all of their families, for the sacrifices they have made and continue to make on a daily basis. On behalf of the Magic organization, we want them to know they are our heroes."

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