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News Article

Saluting Service Members

Active duty, reserve and retired military members honored at UTC-sponsored Connecticut Open

Four-time champion Caroline Wozniacki played her first match on Monday night.
Marvin Cohen and his wife Dorothy attended the event. Marvin served in military intelligence during the Korean conflict.
Service members and veterans visited the UTC-sponsored Military Appreciation Outpost throughout Monday’s session.
Moe and Heidi Armstrong came to the Open for the first time after learning that UTC was paying tribute to veterans. Moe spent three years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and was one of only 1,000 reconnaissance troops stationed in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966.
In June, UTC announced the company would serve as presenting sponsor of the newly named Connecticut Open.
The USO Show Troupe performed throughout the evening for attendees of Military Appreciation Night.
Carolyn Begnoche (center), a Pratt & Whitney employee, was chosen to do the coin toss at the Tuesday night match for Ekaterina Makarova (left) and Petra Kvitova.

On a warm summer evening, tennis fans from throughout New England sat in the stands at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale University stadium in New Haven, Conn., cheering on international tennis stars as they darted across the court and lunged to shoot the ball over the net. 

While cameras broadcast the images to more than 160 countries around the world, onlookers at the newly renamed Connecticut Open Presented by United Technologies were treated to a close-up view of top-ranked players, including defending champion and World No. 3 player Simona Halep and four-time champion Caroline Wozniacki.

Among the fans in the bleachers – and high above, in the UTC Military Outpost – active duty, reserve and veteran military personnel of conflicts ranging from World War II to Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq were enjoying the matches and the special attention they were receiving during the UTC-sponsored Military Appreciation Night, held on Monday, Aug. 18.

Current and former service members, joined by their families, stood with their hands over their hearts or saluting as a USO Show Troupe performed the national anthem. They were also honored with a color guard and the presenting of military flags. Upstairs in the outpost, many mingled and chatted with other vets, enjoying complimentary snacks and beverages as they viewed the matches in air-conditioned comfort. 

They had also benefited from a “buy one, get one” ticket promotion, courtesy of United Technologies.

Connecticut Open Tournament Director Anne Worcester said the nine-day Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) sporting event, previously called The New Haven Open at Yale, has been transformed over the last nine months, thanks in large part to outstanding support from the State of Connecticut. The addition of United Technologies as presenting sponsor on June 10 was incredibly impactful, she added.

“It is unheard of in our business, eight weeks out of the tournament, to go through a complete rebranding and bring in a new lead sponsor, but that’s what we’ve done,” she said. “We’ve worked collaboratively with UTC and thrown many, many decisions at them in a short period of time, and they’ve handled it with great aplomb – professionally and enthusiastically – and approached it with a very strategic eye. UTC is maximizing all of its tournament assets despite the very short lead time. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

She said the state approached UTC in December. She believes UTC and the tournament are a good fit since the WTA event draws players from 35 different countries and UTC does business around the world. 

“I think another factor was that the tournament does so much to give back to Connecticut, just as UTC does. We’re both international organizations and institutions that care very deeply about our Connecticut roots,” Worcester said.

In fact, a major beneficiary of proceeds from the Connecticut Open is Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, which UTC has long supported.

The tournament’s Military Appreciation Night was another draw, given UTC’s position as a leading manufacturer and supplier of products and services for military aircraft and more. Worcester said while the military were honored at past tournaments, “thanks to UTC, we’ve taken that program to a whole new level.”

John Urban of Cape Cod, Mass., was one of the veterans who attended Military Appreciation Night. John, who served for more than 21 years as a “peace time” Air Force fighter pilot before retiring in 1994, said he felt honored to be recognized.

“There were so many people who did much more than I did, and they’re the ones who should be appreciated,” he said humbly. “Especially the young married people who are separated. Fighting, leaving loved ones behind – it’s got to be very difficult.”

He and his wife Nancy are not only fans of tennis but avid players. He was thrilled to learn that his daughter Katie, who lives in New Haven, had bought them tickets to the Open, and even more so when he learned it was Military Appreciation Night. “This is fabulous, because we all have something in common,” he said of veterans. “Serving in the military was probably the most important time of my life.”

Also in attendance were Dorothy Cohen and her husband Marvin, who served in military intelligence during the Korean conflict. After his discharge, he was contacted by the U.S. State Department and asked to work as a civilian in Stuttgart, Germany. The couple spent two years in Europe before moving back to Orange, Conn., to raise three children. Today, they divide their time between West Haven, Conn., and Florida.

Tennis is a big part of their lives. They volunteer at the USTA booth, and daughter Marcie runs her own tennis academy. Her job, and that of her 20-person staff, includes visiting schools to teach the sport to children.

And their reaction to Military Appreciation Night? “Actually, we do feel appreciated,” Marvin said. “It’s very nice to be remembered.”

Moe and Heidi Armstrong came to the Open for the first time after learning that UTC was paying tribute to veterans. Moe spent three years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and was one of only 1,000 reconnaissance troops stationed in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966. “I don’t necessarily follow tennis,” said Moe, a West Haven Veterans Affairs employee support specialist who, for the past 30 years, has been responsible for the Vet to Vet program across America. “But when I learned that UTC was hosting a program for vets, we had to come. This is wonderful.”

David Callegari of Torrington, Conn., a retired 21-year U.S. Army veteran who served in Egypt and Germany and is now a sixth grade teacher in Bridgeport, Conn., came to the Open last year for the military appreciation event and enjoyed it so much that he came again this year. The former master sergeant and tennis enthusiast said the recognition “kind of makes me feel important. I don’t talk about being in the Army, but I like it when the military is recognized. This is great. I can't believe these accommodations for the veterans. We have the choice of sitting in the stands or having this wonderful view from the outpost.

Dana Dillon, an Air Force veteran, was an aerospace mechanic stationed in Greece. She is a member of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, and the American Legion. Dillon, who was disabled overseas and now gets around in a wheelchair, joined AMVETS in 2007 and soon after, volunteered to start a local post in her community of Stafford Springs. Now, she serves as the state commander for AMVETS, and is working with her wife Sharron, a lawyer in private practice, to set up a veterans’ center at the University of Hartford. 

This was their first attendance at the Open. “I enjoy the camaraderie,” she said. “I can talk to any vet here and it doesn’t matter where they served – the bond is there.”

Dillon regularly visits Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, bringing gift cards and refurbished laptops donated by Sikorsky to the veterans there. “We go to cheer them up but they, in turn, cheer us up,” she said. “We need to do as much as possible for our veterans. Every day in America, 22 veterans commit suicide. Programs like this (UTC’s) are so important; they recognize the sacrifice our military personnel make.”

Worcester said the tournament – whose other major sponsors include the State of Connecticut, the City of New Haven, Yale University, Yale-New Haven Hospital, American Express, Aetna and the Knights of Columbus – is thrilled that UTC has stepped up to help celebrate veterans in this way.

“We want veterans to feel honored and special. Military members are not appreciated as much as they could and should be; I think there need to be more of these efforts and initiatives, especially for the combat military,” she said.

“I feel we owe it to all military members, whether they served in wars gone by or more recent conflicts, and whether they’re active, reserve or retired. Regardless of what generation they belong to, I think we as a country can do even more to show our appreciation for military members who risk their lives for our freedom. There’s no more selfless gift. It’s something we should honor every day.”