DALLAS – Johnny Turner’s first experience attending a Dallas Mavericks game was a very memorable occasion for the US Marine Corporal from Saginaw.

So much so that it nearly took his breath away.

Turner was the winner of Operation Warrior Wishes, which is an organization that selects veterans to be their invited guests at a professional sporting event. The organization, co-founded by the father-son duo of Craig and Matt Steichen, contacts the pro teams, and in this case, Turner and three of his family members were blessed with a VIP treatment to a Mavs game compliments of Operation Warrior Wishes and the Mavs.

“While the Mavs were warming up we were right there on the first row in the floor seats, and once they started the game we went up to our (lower level) seats,” Turner said. “It was just an awesome experience.”

The experience included Turner and his family being a part of the High Five Line, where they lined up and received high fives from the Mavs players as they ran onto the court before the game against the Sacramento Kings.

Although the contest Turner and his family attended at American Airlines Center was a while ago, he remembers it like it was yesterday. Especially since it’s the only time any of them have ever attended a Mavs game.

“To sum it up, it really touches my heart sincerely because not too many people or organizations do that,” Turner said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the old saying that people don’t have to be nice. It’s just a blessing to be able to be on the receiving end of this, because something like that is probably expensive. For a person to get a chance to do that, it’s priceless.”

Turner, 41, served in the Marines for seven years, primarily based in Camp Fallujah in Fallujah, Iraq, before he medically retired in 2007 after suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), hearing loss and migraines. Thus, nights like the one when he witnessed the Mavs capture a thrilling 117-116 double overtime victory against the Kings were very poignant to him.

“Events like that are far and few between,” Turner said. “The way I look at it, for myself it was very therapeutic because I suffer from PTSD – war-related stuff. I served in Iraq and I’m medically retired from the Marine Corp. So when organizations reach out and do something like that, that not only helps the veteran, but it shows there are people and organizations who really do care about what you did for the country.”

Turner’s connection to the Mavs started because of Craig and Matt Steichen, who were the first father-son duo to attend a National Football League game in all 32 stadiums in one season. They also invited wounded warriors along to the games to thank them for their service to this country.

A few years ago, the Steichens decided to branch-off and add National Basketball Association games to their vast repertoire. That’s how the Mavs got involved.

“The Mavs were one of the first basketball teams that went that extra mile,” Craig Steichen said. “The Mavs were kind of our initiation into the basketball side of the same kind of treatment we got from football. It was kind of cool, because we didn’t realize that basketball did all of that — the special treatment stuff, the VIP, the really cool stuff for the veterans.”

Craig Steichen tipped his hat to the Mavs for making Turner and his family feel special. He particularly mentioned proprietor Mark Cuban and also Katie Edwards, the Mavs’ Director of Community Relations and Mavs Foundation.

“For basketball we’ve done almost all the teams (in the NBA) and the Mavs are definitely still one of the top ones as far as access and what you do and the way you do the whole system,” Craig Steichen said. “The Mavs get everybody in the game from the military and three different kids, too, and we can’t do this without the Mavs. I can buy tickets and take them to the Mavs game or to any basketball game, but I can’t do what the Mavs have done without people like Katie and the team of Mark Cuban. That’s a big part of what our experience is.”

“Our program is not taking people to the game, and I will not just give you a ticket to the game. They go with us, or they go with one of our ambassadors to make sure that they get dinner and are treated very well at dinner. That’s in our control, or in the team’s control.”

Turner took his 18-year old daughter (Jaleisha), 17-year old son (Tyler) and 27-year old nephew (Gregory Moore) to the Mavs’ game with him. And he’s still pinching himself while recalling what he and his family experienced.

“My nephew is a serious Mavs fan,” Turner said. “Oh my God, he loves the Mavs, you have no idea. To him it’s like God, the Mavs, my family and then everything else.”

The mission of Operation Warrior Wishes is to honor heroes, keep legacies alive and offer a once in a lifetime experience from the battlefield to the ballfield. That certainly rang true in the case of Turner and his family.

“Just give them what they deserve,” Craig Steichen said, referring to the wounded warriors. “They’re heroes. Let them do what maybe other people can’t do. Give them that access and make it a really special day, and that’s what the Mavs have done and what many other teams have done.”

“I know Johnny had a blast. Everybody is giving them a really, really good experience like Johnny had.”

A pastor at Christ Lifters Community of Faith in Fort Worth, Turner obviously believes in divine intervention. That’s particularly true, since he knows the Steichens had their pick of among 3,000 warriors to take to a game before he was chosen.

“I told Craig, I said of all the people – 3,000 folks— I sure appreciate you calling me out of all the folks,” Turner said. “I said that right there says a lot and it means a lot to me, and once again it shows the favor of God upon your life. God allows everything to happen for a reason. You just got to trust and believe and hold on.”

In the meantime, Turner will be forever holding onto the memories when the Mavs treated him and his family like royalty.

“It was literally a dream come true, and to see my nephew and my kids, the smile, that right there was awesome, because that’s not something that I by myself would be able to do,” Turner said. “It’s nothing like seeing your family happy and smiling, because with all the stuff I went through in Iraq and coming back here in the United States and dealing with all the politics and the Marine Corp, I jumped through hoops and had a chance to relax (at a Mavs game).”

“When your kids feel good and you put a smile on their face, as a parent that just touches you in a special way. I’m at a loss for words, and that’s really not me to be at a loss for words, so thank you Dallas Mavericks.”

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