Saturday’s outdoor game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings at the U.S. Air Force Academy was the 21st event of its kind covered by NBC Sports host and reporter Kathryn Tappen.
The 2020 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series marked the second time in three years the NHL has taken its game outdoors at a service academy, and like the 2018 Stadium Series held at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, this event held extra significance for Tappen.
“When you can celebrate our military and what these brave young women and men are about to embark on and do in our lives, it’s just it makes it extra special,” Tappen told Military Times.
Tappen grew up extremely close, both in their New Jersey proximity and in their sibling-like relationship, to her cousin, Stanford “Ford” H. Shaw III, a Marine Raider and Naval Academy graduate who completed two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.
Five years ago, Shaw’s parents and fiancée, Marine officer and Naval Academy graduate Maj. Lindsay Pirek, received news that he had been killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash off the coast of Florida. News of Shaw’s death — seven Marine Raiders were killed in the crash — crushed family members who were close to the 31-year-old, including Tappen.
It was in the wake of Shaw’s untimely death that Tappen would begin to learn so much more about the rigors of his line of work.
“We were like brother and sister, and how often do brothers and sisters really talk about work?” Tappen told Military Times. “He was so humble, and he rarely talked about himself or his job. Certainly, his parents and his brother were privy to information that we didn’t know. But he always wanted to know more about us.”
Through connecting with Shaw’s friends and fellow Marines, Tappen came to understand the nature of her cousin’s leadership role with the Marine Raiders.
“I learned so much more about the military in the wake of his death that I wish I knew when he was alive so I could ask him more relevant questions,” she said.
Tappen has since made it her mission to honor her cousin’s memory and the service of those like him as a board member for the Marine Raider Foundation, an organization that provides support to active-duty and medically retired Marine Raiders, World War II veterans, and gold star families.
In 2018, Tappen recruited former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie to speak at the inaugural Salute to Raiders event in New York City. Former NFL all-pro defensive end Jared Allen, who created Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors, was also in attendance.
“We had about 88 people show up for year one and it was a wonderful, intimate setting,” Tappen told Military Times. “A number of active Marine Raiders were in attendance. The following year, we grew to over 250 participants.”
With the third annual event coming up in May, Tappen is hoping attendance continues to surge, and more come to understand the sacrifice of Marines like Shaw.
“Everybody already knows the Navy SEALs or the Army Rangers,” she said. “But the Marine Raider name and trying to explain what these men do and who they are is something else entirely.”
And while she aims to shine a light on a much-deserved cause, Tappen also understands Marine Raiders, like her cousin, embrace the anonymity and humility that the job entails.
“Many people don’t know about this special elite group of Marines,” she said.
“Then again, that’s exactly how they want it.”