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Mets to honor military on Sunday

Annual appreciation event on grander scale with cancellation of Fleet Week

NEW YORK -- After the cancellation of Fleet Week, the Mets joined with the USO of Metropolitan New York to plan their own gathering for thousands of military personnel.

On Sunday, more than 3,000 servicemen and women, as well as their families, will be at Citi Field to participate in the Mets' sixth annual Military Appreciation Night. Since budget cuts from government sequestration forced the cancellation of Fleet Week, an annual event in New York, the event at Citi Field will be one of the largest military events in the city over Memorial Day weekend.

"I think this is just an incredible program," said Brian Whiting, the CEO of the USO of Metropolitan New York. "This is something that's been going on for a very long time in terms of military-support programs when it comes to the Mets."

But this year's event will be much more expansive.

Currently, 3,800 military personnel and their families are expected to attend the game, with free tickets donated by the Mets. There will also be a host of programs and information available to them over the course of the day.

Weill Cornell Medical College's Program for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Studies will offer free counseling to veterans, Dowling College and Saint Joseph's College will offer information about enrollment, and the Food Bank for New York City will help those who might need food stamps. Several other organizations will be present as well.

"We are proud to salute our nation's military not only on Memorial Day weekend but throughout the season," Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said in a statement. "It's important to honor and recognize the sacrifices our uniformed servicemen and women have made for our country and to support our veterans in any way we can."

Before the game, a group of children who have parents serving in the military will recite the Pledge of Allegiance alongside two Mets players. A satellite feed will be set up so their parents can watch.

"Every year we do it, I stand next to Mets players who tear up," said Steve Castleton, who volunteers with the USO and is helping to plan the events. "It's just really heartfelt from the Mets."

The USO Show Troupe will perform for fans before the game and will sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. Also before the game, Rear Admiral John Weigold will lead a joint re-enlistment and enlistment ceremony. In addition, a representative from each branch of the military will throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

The game between the Mets and Braves will be broadcast to 175 countries and all ships at sea on American Forces Network.

Terrance C. Holliday, commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs, stressed the importance of helping returning military members re-integrate into society. Events such as these go a long way toward doing so, he said.

"What the Mets are doing is fantastic," Holliday said. "I think the 26th is going to be really good."

Castleton said that the Mets have long been willing to offer as much assistance as needed when it comes to military programs and events, always issuing complimentary tickets to active military personnel.

This year, though, the team wanted to help even more since Fleet Week won't be taking place.

"This year, because of the sequestration and Fleet Week being cancelled," Castleton said, "the Mets wanted to get bigger and better than ever."

Chris Iseman is an associate reporter for

New York Mets