STUTTGART, Germany - Shane Hudella, a retired Minnesota Army National Guard first sergeant and Operation Desert Storm veteran, runs the charitable foundation Defending the Blue Line, which introduces the sport of ice hockey to the children of military members.
Hudella, a native of Hastings, Minn., accompanied Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, the chairman’s senior enlisted advisor, on the annual USO holiday tour that recently concluded here.
After retiring from the National Guard after 23 years of service, Hudella decided to give back to the children of those in uniform. He thought of ice hockey and the National Hockey League.
“So I got connected with a couple of NHL pro players,” he said.
Matt Hendricks, a member of the NHL’s Washington Capitals hockey team, works with Hudella’s charity and accompanied him on this year's USO tour.
“I've been working with Shane now for about three years and the opportunity [to help military children] arose through him,” Hendricks said.
“The USO contacted him and Shane contacted me, and wanted to know what my interests were. I was honored to get the invite.”
Hudella said his family inspired him to create his charity.
“Looking at my own family, I've got four boys – we're a hockey family – we all love hockey,” he said. “So I met the NHL players and started this organization, thinking we'll able to help some National Guard and reserve soldiers in the Midwest.”
Since then, Hudella’s foundation has received coverage from major news outlets and was last year's winner of the White House's “Joining Forces” award. “Joining Forces” is a comprehensive national initiative led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, to provide service members and their families with the opportunities and support they have earned.
“We got to travel up to D.C. and meet First Lady [Michelle] Obama, Dr. [Jill] Biden, and get recognized by the chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff],” Hudella said. “And it kind of led to being here today.”
Hudella credits the military for the success of his charity.
“This last year, we just had this explosive growth to now we're shipping gear to 40 different states in the continental U.S.,” he said. “We've sent equipment here to Germany to active-duty families who have kids who skate out in the local community. We've sent gear to Fort Greeley, Alaska, to really all over the world.”
Between hockey camps and giving out equipment and grants, Defending the Blue Line just crossed the “million-dollar giving mark, which is a big deal for us,” Hudella said.
“We've helped, all said now, close to 500 kids,” he said. “We've sent thousands of families down to enjoy a hockey game, before or after deployment. We've helped between four and five thousand service members and their families.”
Now, through the power of the USO, Hudella, continues to grow his foundation.
“It's [been] an absolute honor traveling with the chairman and the staff of the USO,” Hudella said. “It's just been a life-changing experience to come out and do this mission with them.”
Hudella said he and his foundation remain committed to helping military families and he looks forward to expanding.
“Just keep an eye on Defending the Blue Line,” he said. “It's not going to be long and we're going to be branching out into Defending the Goal Line for football, and Defending the Baseline for baseball, and our big-picture goal in the next couple of years is to be the one-stop shop to keep military kids in sports.”