On August 29, while his family stayed home in LaPlace, Louisiana, Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Michael Gil was called to duty. He was being sent about half an hour away to help the New Orleans Police Department prepare for Hurricane Isaac.
His wife, Jamie, hadn't heard any mandatory evacuations for her area and even though the power had gone out early that morning, the weather wasn't too bad. "A little wind and rain," she says. But then the water in the street started to rise.
By 7:30 p.m., floodwaters had risen almost up to her car in the driveway. And that's when Jamie said things got real.
"It was about this time that I started to 'freak' you could say," she said.
By 2:30 a.m. Thursday, the water was coming through the walls into the Gils' home. Michael was on his way to help, but he had to make it all the way from New Orleans in a hurricane. By the time he got to LaPlace, it was 3:30 a.m. and the inside of the house sustained serious damage.
"The couches were floating in the living room and the stench of the water was pretty unbearable," Jamie says.
Luckily, the family was able to get the door open and get out to the truck and safety.
Fast forward several days. The interim coach of the New Orleans Saints, Aaron Kromer, knew he wanted to do something for a family affected by Isaac. He reached out to HLN anchor Robin Meade and in no time, HLN producers had identified and located the Gils.
After hearing stories of their selflessness and courage that night, and in the days that followed, we knew this family deserved some recognition. And bonus: they're HUGE Saints fans! The surprise was on!
Kromer arranged for the whole family to attend a game at the Superdome VIP style -- field passes, pictures and autographs with players, swank seats and even a limo.
The Gil family is staying with Jamie's mother while they wait for their house to be repaired. Jamie says she's being told that it could be six months till they're back home.
Still, Jamie says the trip to the game was “a surreal experience and has brought us much joy and excitement in one of the hardest times in our lives.”
Thanks to the Saints for making this special day possible and to the Gil family for their sacrifice and service.
Watch HLN for more surprises for our troops leading up to Veterans Day -- it's all part of our "Stories of Courage: the Give Back project." Keep up with everything we're doing at HLNtv.com/Salute!