St. Charles group grants wishes of veterans, first responders to attend sporting events nationwide
What began as a father-son challenge to see a game in each NFL stadium during one season is now in its 10th year of helping fulfill the wishes of members of the military as well as first responders to attend sporting events nationwide.
The nonprofit organization Operation Warrior Wishes, headed by St. Charles resident Craig Steichen and his son, Matt, will be hosting about 150 heroes at Super Bowl events this week.
As Craig Steichen related, the group started as a dream to be the first father and son to attend an NFL game at all 32 league stadiums in one season. At the same time, they also wanted to give back and came up with the idea to invite wounded warriors as their guests to each game to thank the soldiers for the service and sacrifices they had made. Their efforts were put in the spotlight when former Bears coach Mike Ditka mentioned them on ESPN Monday Night Football and offered to pay for their expenses.
"We politely declined because we were not a charity and there was no reason why he should pay us back," Craig Steichen said.
They later changed their minds and accepted his donation so they could create the nonprofit organization Operation Warrior Wishes in 2013. The group has gone beyond their expectations.
"We'll hit our 10,000th wish sometime this summer," Craig Steichen said.
The group grants the wishes of both active service members and veterans as well as first responders. Because Matt now has kids, Craig Steichen is the one taking trips across the country.
"We don't do it together anymore," he said. "I do all the traveling, but he's doing all the behind-the-scenes stuff."
He is touched after reading the letters from those helped by the group. To help fund the group's efforts, a golf outing has been held in past years.
The golf outing was canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic, and last year it was rained out. A golf outing is planned this year for Aug. 7 at St. Andrews Golf & Country Club in West Chicago.
"We're trying to rebuild that," he said.
To nominate someone to receive a wish, go to the organization's website at warriorwishes.org. The website also has information about how to donate to the organization.