American Hero Night was special for everyone in attendance at Lone Star Arena — particularly for C.J. Armstrong and his family.
During Friday night’s competition at the Cowboy Capital of the World PRCA Rodeo, Armstrong was honored for his military service when he was presented with a check for $17,000 and various gifts.
The 28-year-old Army veteran, who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, was asked to attend the rodeo to receive the gifts of appreciation on American Hero Night. But he did not know beforehand that his family would be receiving the huge check.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Armstrong, who was accompanied by his wife, Melissa, and their 3-year-old son, Rylan. Their 2-month-old daughter, Charlee Rose, was just a bit too young to attend.
The Armstrongs live in Huckabay, where Melissa works as a teacher’s aide. C.J., who served in the Army from August 2006 through May 2013, said he is attending Tarleton State University in Stephenville, and may attend Texas A&M to get his master’s degree.
The selection of Armstrong for the Hero Night honor was made by the family of the late Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sniper who was killed Feb. 2, 2013 in Erath County.
The Cowboy Capital of the World PRCA Rodeo raised $10,000 for American Hero Night award by staging an auction at a sponsor’s gala. More than $5,000 more was raised at a Patriot Shoot held by Gateway Archery, which was given to the American Valor Foundation (Kyle’s family), then donated to the Hero Night recipient. The rest of the funding came from part of the ticket sales from Friday night’s rodeo.
“The end game is, I want to be a wildlife biologist,” Armstrong said. “I can’t thank them enough. It’s an amazing feeling that they raised that much money for veterans.”
Friday night’s rodeo began after the crowd was treated to a video presentation featuring the late President Ronald Reagan giving a speech full of patriotic and inspirational thoughts and images.
Michael Orr, 64, who attended the rodeo with his wife Alene because they are in town visiting their daughter, TSU assistant professor Chandra Andrews, said he was pleased to see the video.
“It was excellent. We need more of that in the country right now. Country folks really understand what loyalty and patriotism and sacrifice are all about,” Orr said.
Orr is a member of the city council in Pocatello, Idaho, and is a longtime rodeo fan. He said they flew in to Dallas, avoiding the road trip of more than 1,300 miles to Stephenville.
“It was marvelous,” Eve Dornan said of the opening video. “That was so inspiring. We’re a big supporter of the veterans.”
She said she and her husband, Skip Dornan, got up at 6 a.m. at their home between Huckabay and Stephenville just to attend a morning slack session. Skip is a former roper himself. Their son, Blu Dornan, competes in tie-down roping and their son-in-law Ron George is a team roper.
“There’s no better way to raise your kids than in the sport of rodeo,” Eve said. “They all help their competitors, and they are all very respectful of the flag.”
Five visitors from Scotland — including three sisters — treated themselves to seeing rodeo in person for the first time Friday. Andrew MacDougall said they came to Texas on vacation and were staying in Austin when they discovered information about the Stephenville rodeo on the Internet. His wife, Penny, said they previously had seen rodeo only in movies.
“We wanted to experience the real heart of America,” said Penny, noting that they plan to return to Scotland in October. “I’m overwhelmed by everything because I’ve never seen anything like it up close — and it seems to be a real family affair. I love that there’s young and old here.”
Andrew said that seeing the rodeo action live and in person gave them that “wow” effect they were seeking.
They were joined by Penny’s sisters — her twin, Donna MacDonald, and Moira MacDonald. Moira’s husband, Jon MacDonald, was also there.
They live in the Western Isles of Scotland, Andrew said. He noted that this is their “fourth or fifth” time to visit the United States.
Joyce Whitis, a longtime cowboy news columnist for the Empire-Tribune, always attends the rodeo and said she couldn’t really name her favorite event.
“I don’t guess I have a favorite,” said the former school teacher. “It depends on how the performances go. I did barrel racing when I was in college and high school.”
The annual rodeo concludes Sunday afternoon at Lone Star Arena.