TAMPA—Kathy Mandziara has always wanted to ride the Fan Zam. When months ago, her son Ryan Berg said she'd have a chance, she was excited. The Fan Zam took to the ice and then Berg, a U.S. Army Captain returning from a tour of duty in Iraq, walked out separately and climbed up the back. Mandziara cried.
The Lightning invited Kathy, her husband Mark and Berg's father John Berg, to ride the Fan Zam and see a video message from Berg. Mandziara thought there might be more to it but figured probably not since the team typical recognizes service members during timeouts not intermission.
With 34 years of experience in the military himself, John Berg thought something might be up, but didn't want to spoil the moment thinking about it too much.
"It was amazing," Mandziara said. "I hoped but I didn't really think. You kind of hope, but when the government closed it kind of helped his story because he said he couldn't come home for 60 days."
The biggest thing for both of Berg's parents is that seeing him in front of them, they finally truly know that he is safe.
Berg started planning this months ago. He saw a video of his friend surprising his family at a Rays game and asked the Public Affairs Officer if he had any connections with the Lightning. In late November, the Lightning sent his family letters inviting them to the game.
"It was pretty awesome," Berg said. "The hard part was trying to hide it from my dad. I think he knew even though he said he didn't."
The other hard part was not going straight home when he got to the States. Berg spent five days at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He flew into Tampa on Wednesday night and stayed with a friend to avoid his family.
Berg is a member of the Florida National Guard's 53rd infantry brigade combat team. He was deployed with the special operations joint task force, and has previously been deployed to Afghanistan and activated in response to humanitarian relief efforts. Berg is a bronze-star recipient, an eight-year veteran and third-generation service member.