From 3,000 feet above Washington-Grizzly Stadium, they could hear a roar.
And when six U.S. Navy SEALs touched down on the turf near the 50-yard line inside the stadium Saturday night, Bo Reichenbach was there waiting with some 26,292 other fans to show them what Grizzly football was all about.
Missoulians and the Grizzlies put on a good show.
“They thought it was awesome,” Reichenbach said of the SEALs’ experience after they parachuted into the stadium. “They were pretty honored to be able to jump in and be able to support our family.”
Reichenbach, a U.S. Navy SEAL and a Billings native, lost both his legs when he was hit by an improvised explosive device on July 17, 2012, while serving in Afghanistan.
A series of weekend fundraisers held across Missoula last week, including the U.S. Navy SEALs parachute jump into the stadium, helped raise roughly $25,000 to help Reichenbach and his family build a wheelchair accessible home in Billings.
Reichenbach has been at Walter Reed Memorial Hospital for more than a year recovering from his injuries.
Before the game Saturday night between the Griz and Appalachian State University, Reichenbach presided over the coin toss.
Then, the Reichenbach family got caught up in the moment as the SEALs soared down.
Reichenbach’s parents, Don and Crystal, his wife Lacy and son Landon, along his grandparents, Bud and Jeanette Reichenbach, were on the field. His cousins setup the fireworks.
“It was pretty emotional,” Don said. “To have everyone just yelling and screaming, it definitely fired him up. . . I think it was good night for everybody. Except the opponent.”
The Griz beat Appalachian State handily, winning 30-6 in front of a record number of fans.
The fans were so loud, the jumpers could hear them from 3,000 feet above the stadium, said Randy Hayes, founder of America’s Fallen Heroes, which helped organize the events for Reichenbach.
“These guys jumped into the (NFL) Chargers’ stadium Thursday night and the 26,200 fans outdid the noise level of (the fans inside) the Chargers’ stadium Thursday night,” Hayes said.
Saturday’s game made for a night of firsts: It was the first football game of the 2013 season and the first regular-season home night game for the Griz.
It was also the first time Reichenbach had attended a Griz game and the first time a team of SEALs have parachuted into Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
It was also most likely the first time a group of SEALs has watched a Grizzly football game.
“They thought it was cool once they packed their gear and got up to the sky box. They had a great time,” Don said. “They loved the atmosphere. They are used to jumping into some bigger stadiums, but they certainly enjoyed it.”
The group that parachuted into the stadium Saturday were a part of the Frog-X Jump Team and former members of the U.S. Navy Leap Frog elite parachute team.
Several are personal friends of Reichenbach’s.
Guy McDermott, a former SEAL and director operations for the Phoenix Patriot Foundation, which helped put on the weekend event for Reichenbach, agreed that all the SEALs enjoyed the experience.
Wind conditions couldn’t have been better and the jump was “flawless,” he said.
“The crowd, it was just going nuts over them. The fact they got to make this jump into the stadium for Bo, it was the biggest honor for those guys,” McDermott said. “You have a great group of people who live there. I’m in Southern California and you don’t have as much patriotism down here as you guys do up there.”
The America’s Fallen Heroes Foundation, founded by Hayes, helped organize the event in cooperation with the Phoenix Patriot Foundation, an organization founded three years ago by former SEAL Jared Ogden.
The Phoenix group’s goal is to provide direct support to severely wounded veterans enabling them to fully recover, reintegrate and remain engaged in serving America.
McDermott said Sunday early estimates showed Missoulians helped raise roughly $25,000 for Reichenbach during the weekend.
The goal was $50,000.
The one minor technical issue in the fundraising efforts came during the jump when a number was shown on Griz Vision giving fans a chance make donations via text message to Bo’s fund. The majority of the fans couldn’t hear or see the announcement because of the excitement, Reichenbach said.
“If people at the stadium had the opportunity (to text donations) like we wanted them to, we would have had at least about $20,000 to $25,000 on the spot,” he said.
The Phoenix Patriot Foundation is continuing to accept donations for Reichenbach at phoenixpatriotfoundation.org. People can click the red “donate” button on the site’s homepage to make a donation through PayPal. They should include a note that the money is for Reichenbach, McDermott said.
Dozens of businesses, individuals and organizations, including the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, The Fisher House (Hero Miles), Bitterroot Ford, Outback Steak House, Home Depot and Triple W Equipment, helped make the weekend possible, Hayes said.
Reichenbach called the experience “pretty awesome.”
Reichenbach will rest for several days in Billings before he heads back to Walter Reed, where he’ll start to practice “running on my running legs.”
“That’s the next step,” he said.
As he continues to recover, Reichenbach will begin helping nonprofits and charities around the country raise money and awareness about veterans issues.
In early September, he’ll be a part of the Never Quit Challenge, a multiday charity jet ski ride on the Atlantic Ocean from Marathon, Fla., to New York City, where they’ll arrive on Sept. 11.
The challenge will benefit the Phoenix Patriot Foundation, the Boot Campaign and The Station Foundation.
When it’s finally time for Reichenbach to come home for good, he and Don are planning on beginning work on custom-made home.
“I’m a home builder in Billings. What Bo and I decided from Day One,” Don said, “is that he and I would figure out how we can build his own home.”