Real people go to Washington

Updated 5:55 PM ET, Wed January 29, 2014
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Everyone sees the President, the VIPs, the robes and the brass. But CNN went in search of the unseen guests, the everyday Americans in the balconies for the State of the Union speech. Members of Congress can invite one guest each. These are some of the people they chose. We lead with Matt Cooke. During the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Cooke threw himself between attacker Nidal Hasan and a fellow soldier and was shot five times himself. A shy man who works to prevent military suicides, he struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and sat near a House chamber door during the State of the Union in case of a panic attack. He said he attended the speech to fight for Fort Hood families and their push that the 2009 attack be considered a terrorist act. Lisa Desjardins/CNN
Luis Castaneda: The fifth-grader won his ticket from Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, in an essay contest. Luis wrote that going to the State of the Union would change his life forever and help move him toward his lifetime goal of attending Yale. Asked if his family is proud, Luis' grandmother Sylvia choked back tears. Lisa Desjardins/CNN
Shelly Collins: A Silicon Valley CEO, Collins runs Enscient, an information technology company. She sits on the National Women's Business Council and also is an activist pushing for more science, technology, engineering and math education. Rep. Mike Honda, D-California, invited her as his guest. Lisa Desjardins
Katie Greene: Fifteen years ago, Greene and her neighbors in Riverside, California, formed "The Group," a determined we-can-fix-our-community organization that still meets every other Thursday morning. Greene begged Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, for a State of the Union ticket for a year, and she beamed that attending the speech was on her bucket list. "This is exceedingly special," she told CNN. Lisa Desjardins/CNN
Aaron Hirsh: The 44-year-old father of two came to the State of the Union because of his personal experience with Obamacare. Hirsh told CNN that his individual market policy was canceled and the insurance company replacement was 80% more expensive. When Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, put out a call for stories related to Obamacare, Hirsh responded and was invited to be Scalise's guest Tuesday night.
Rev. Mark Tyler: Tyler is the pastor of the historic Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. He also works with a group called POWER -- Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild -- to bring together different faiths and races and help people who are struggling. Lisa Desjardins/CNN
Jeff Colaiacovo: Wearing his Purple Heart ribbon to the speech, Colaiacovo told CNN that Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Florida, invited him to the State of the Union after he had difficulty getting his Veterans Affairs benefits. Colaiacovo served in Vietnam but said VA red tape still blocked his benefits until Frankel helped. "The system is a merry-go-round," he told CNN. Lisa Desjardins/CNN