Eight years ago, I was thrilled to attend Super Bowl XLII, which pitted the New York Giants against the New England Patriots in Glendale, Arizona. Before the game, I watched with pride as the military color guard marched on the field, but as soon as they were done, I watched them march off the field and continue right out of the stadium. Though they were an integral part of the pomp and circumstance, those Servicemembers did not get to stay to watch the game.

After making that observation, I became aware of a number of empty seats scattered throughout the stadium. Throughout the game, I continued to think about how much it would have meant to me to be able to sit in one of those seats during my time as a young sailor, and how much every single one of America’s Servicemembers and Veterans would probably enjoy sitting in those empty seats, too. So, I decided to do something to fill those seats.

That experience directly inspired me to found the non-profit Veteran Tickets Foundation — Vet Tix — with the goal of giving free tickets to Servicemembers and Veterans to help them relax, strengthen relationships and connect with their communities.

Since making that decision, it’s been amazing to see Vet Tix grow into a substantial organization that is a major part of the Veteran and military communities. Today, more than 475,000 verified Veterans and Servicemembers have officially registered as Vet Tixers and are able to enter lotteries for tickets through the Tickets for Troops program, or apply for the experience of a lifetime through Hero’s Wish. Vet Tix has provided more than 2.5 million tickets for events across the country ranging from college and professional sports to concerts and theater performances.

Not only are we providing Veterans with exciting experiences, but we’re employing Veterans, too. I’m proud to say that two-thirds of our employees are either Veterans or military family members.

I was born into a military family. Both of my grandfathers saw action during World War II and my father served in the Air Force during the Vietnam era. I have seen firsthand the challenges families and Servicemembers face during extended absences, whether they are overseas, here at home, in combat or in training. But I’ve also seen the joy that reunions bring, the invaluable skills gained through service, and the incredible bonds created through military brother and sisterhood.

Army Veteran Phillip Taves at a NCAA football game

I know in my heart that to many Vet Tixers and their families, the Tickets for Troops program is about much more than just getting tickets and enjoying a fun night out; it’s a way that they can connect with their families, communities, and even their military brothers and sisters. Vet Tix also has the potential to provide members with opportunities to heal or battle through hidden wounds that may be present. We’re doing more than just thanking Veterans on Veterans Day; we’re supporting them year round, ensuring that every day is a Veterans day.

One of our Vet Tixers, Army Veteran Phillip Taves, recently attended a NCAA football game between the Washington Huskies and Colorado Buffaloes on Dec. 6. Taves was able to not only enjoy a night out with his family, but also connect back to the military community.

He wrote to us that, “My kids and I really enjoyed the game a lot. There were a number of other Vets sitting nearby and we all had a good chance to talk about various military issues and remember the good old days while watching a game.”

In addition to Tickets for Troops, Vet Tix provides customized opportunities for those who have shouldered the hardest burdens of military service. Severely wounded Veterans, families of men and women killed in action, and recently deployed active duty personnel can apply for the Hero’s Wish program, in which we actively fundraise to help send them to an event that is high on their personal bucket list.

One of my most favorite Hero’s Wish stories is that of Army First Lt. Moses Woo. Woo recently had his wish filled after returning home from Afghanistan and received coveted tickets to the smash hit musical Hamilton.

“Hamilton is a show is about one of our founding fathers, and his successes. He had the ability to leave St. Croix, join the military, become a statesman, and one of our treasury secretaries,” Woo wrote us in requesting a Hero’s Wish. “My family has supported me through all the training, deployment, and time away from home. Most recently, I did a tour to Afghanistan and it really took a toll on my parents in terms of worrying and being separated from me. I would just like to treat them to something nice and to show them how the sacrifices can also be rewarding. Alexander Hamilton’s sacrifices also allowed him to be successful and to be one of our great founding fathers, and I’d like to show my family this great man’s experience,” he said.

So, you might be thinking, “What’s the catch”? There isn’t one. Vet Tix was created by members of our military and Veteran communities, for our military and Veteran communities, and all Vet Tix events are made possible by donations from sponsors, partner organizations, and regular people just like you and me.

You can learn more about our work and sign up to become a Vet Tixer by visiting www.VetTix.org.

Michael A Focareto III is Vet Tix’s chief executive officer, founder, and president of the board. He is a disabled Veteran of the U.S. Navy (1988-1992) serving during the first Gulf War. Michael was a Naval Nuclear Engineer aboard the USS Virginia (CGN-38).

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