When a Gold Star wife seeking a date to an Army ball shared her story with a Ranger-turned-entrepreneur-turned-zombie slayer, he was moved to act.
And when he released his response on Facebook, members of the greater Army community were moved to share. And share. And share some more.
More than 2 million views later, Mat Best's acceptance of Rachel Richardson's invitation to the 1-187 Battalion Ball at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on Friday night became a social-media sensation. And the reaction of the video's target audience might explain why.
At the suggestion of her best friend, Erin McPhaill, Richardson recorded the 60-second video request for Best, writing her thoughts out on cards because, she said, "sometimes talking about that kind of thing, you can get emotional. It can choke me up."
"I was sitting at home, on my couch, just freaking out, I was shaking so bad," she said.
Best, the president of Article 15 Clothing and one of the stars/writers/producers of the veteran-made zombie-apocalypse-comedy "Range 15," began by noting his busy schedule, including a recent overseas trip to screen "Range 15" for deployed troops. But just when it appeared she was heading for the brush-off:
Best said he was asleep when Richardson's video picked up online momentum, but had plenty of messages from friends flagging him on its contents the next morning.
"The context of the message, she really puts herself out there quite a bit by doing that," Best said. "It was really heartfelt, you know? I thought, 'I've got to do that.' "
A crowdfunding page had been established to help fund Best's trip to Kentucky. He declined the money and pointed supporters toward a fundraiser for the Joint Communications Unit Memorial, a project of the Special Operations Communications Association.
His previous experience at Fort Campbell is limited to a meet-and-greet to promote whiskey. He recalled attending two Ranger balls while in uniform where a primary element was "who can bring the hottest girl. You've got guys bringing strippers." He went to a Marine ball last year, having requested an invitation to keep up with UFC fighter/actress Ronda Rousey.
This time, things are different.
"At first I didn't like the publicity about this. I didn't want to make it like, 'Look how cool I am,' " Best said. "But her husband has been in all of these articles, so people are actually going to read his story, and learn about his sacrifice."
'He loved his job'
It's impossible to describe her late husband in a few sentences, but Rachel Richardson gave it a go.
"When people ask me about him, the first word that comes to mind ... is that he was the biggest smart-ass I've ever known," she said Thursday night, discussing Sgt. Jonathan J. "Rich" Richardson, who died in 2010 in a suicide-bomb blast in Khowst province, Afghanistan. "He was very intelligent. He loved his job, and he was very, very good at it.
"He stood up for what he believed in. He was very passionate about the Army. ... I got to see a side of him that not many other people saw. His softer side, his sweet side. He was a very affectionate, loving person. ... There's so many ways to describe him, there's just not enough time."
"Stuff like that, it goes a long way," she said.
Despite the outreach, she didn't want to go to the ball alone; too depressing, she said. When she invited McPhaill, whose husband is deployed, her best friend suggested sending a video to Best, a longtime favorite that she first noticed, naturally, in a viral video.
"And he was hot. So I kept watching."
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.