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Columbus Lions to pay for troops' transportation to Sunday's game for military appreciation

Calling it a "prevent defense" for the "sequestration blitz," Columbus Lions managing partner John Hargrove said the organization was ensuring that trainees at Fort Benning would be able to make the trip to military appreciation day today.

The Lions, who host the Knoxville Nighthawks in their opening game at the Civic Center, had planned on having 1,500 trainees attend the game. It's an opportunity, Hargrove said, for the team and community to say thank you.

Instead, the sequestration took away the money necessary to afford transportation to and from the game.

"They were going to be on base on a Sunday afternoon with no training -- essentially marooned at Fort Benning," Hargrove said of the trainees. "This was very concerning, very challenging, because we wanted to celebrate their accomplishment and make them part of the community."

Instead, the Lions wrote the check for the 34 buses to transport the soldiers, and the event will go on as planned, perhaps with record numbers. He expects around 1,500 troops to attend along with a large crowd of civilians.

"I think the Civic Center will be rocking and rolling," Hargrove said. "I think we might have a record turnout on Sunday. I think a lot of people are going to support this. We've had tremendous support in Columbus and Fort Benning."

Hargrove released a pointed letter to media outlets expressing his shock that "Congress dropping the ball" could affect something as small as providing a bus for trainees to attend a game.

"I would have never thought it would make it down that far," Hargrove said. "A bus on a Sunday afternoon to say thank you to our troops."

Hargrove stressed that this wasn't about the Lions doing a good deed or opening up their wallets to give something to the troops.

The relationship with Fort Benning is an ongoing partnership, he said, one in which the Lions benefit equally.

"Our community has been very supportive of the military," he said. "A few years back, there was a covenant of support signed. Did the Lions step up here? Certainly. But we are a part of a bigger community that wants to support our soldiers. We were just the vehicle. We were just representing the community."

"I think it's very important for all of us to say thank you. It's a chance during a stressful time for (the trainees) to have that anchor back to the civilian community for just a couple of hours."

The game is scheduled to kick off at 4 p.m.