Washington Nationals honor military service
By Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service
/ Published May 15, 2007
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals baseball team saluted the U.S. military during an evening pre-game program May 11 that featured fireworks, a group enlistment and servicemembers tossing ceremonial pitches.
Military Appreciation Night activities held at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium here also included Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England, who met with Army, Marine, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard members in attendance. Afterward, Secretary England and his military and civilian staff took in the game between the Nationals and the Florida Marlins.
"This is wonderful. I was just talking to all the new recruits, asking them what they're going to do in the military," Secretary England said during the pre-game ceremonies. "I told them this is a great, great time to be joining the military.
"First, it's a great career and it's a great opportunity to serve their country at the same time," he said.
Twelve recruits -- three Air Force, five Navy and four Army -- took oaths of enlistment in a ceremony presided over by Lt. Gen. James G. Roudebush, Air Force surgeon general.
"They've made a commitment to serve our nation, something much bigger than themselves or any of us," General Roudebush said of the new servicemembers. "I think it's a tribute to these young men and women that the Washington Nationals and Major League Baseball would make this opportunity possible."
Additionally, Major League Baseball teams often send players to visit with deployed servicemembers overseas, the general pointed out.
Generael Roudebush was accompanied to the ballpark by Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert L. Smolen, Air Force District of Washington commander. General Smolen echoed General Roudebush's sentiments.
"America's national pastime is baseball, and so to have these recruits out here during a national sporting event like this gives Americans a chance to see some of their finest young people, their sons and daughters, going out to defend freedom," General Smolen said.
New Air Force member Stefon Brown, 20, said he wasn't worried that America is at war with global terrorism.
"I believe that fighting for my country is right," said Mr. Brown, who hails from Washington, D.C.
Jessica Lee, 18, an Army recruit from Waldorf, Md., said she joined the military because she wants to help safeguard America's way of life.
"I joined because I strongly believe in freedom and I don't believe that you should leave (defending) it up to everyone else," Ms. Lee said.
After the enlistment ceremony, military "old-hands" Army Sgt. 1st Class David Nimmers, Marine Sgt. Landon Fielder, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class David Pino, Air Force Airman 1st Class Randy Lopez, and Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Edwards each threw one ceremonial pitch.
"It's pretty amazing. I never dreamed I'd get a chance to do this," Sergeant Fielder, a 23-year-old Marine stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., said as he waited his turn at the pitcher's mound.
One of the National's founding partners, Alphonso Maldon Jr., a retired Army officer and a former assistant secretary of defense for force management policy, also was on hand to greet the servicemembers.
The Nationals' salute to the military "is absolutely one of the best things that we do," Mr. Maldon said, noting America's servicemembers are deployed to places like Afghanistan and Iraq to defend freedom.
"This is the least we can do to for our men and women, to show our appreciation for the service they're rendering for this great country of ours," Mr. Maldon said. The pre-game ceremony may have inspired the Nationals, who beat the Marlins 6-0 later that evening. Washington had endured an eight-game losing streak before the win.
The Nationals are among the more than 250 businesses and organizations nationwide that participate in the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which recognizes citizens' support for military men and women, and communicates that support to members of the U.S. armed forces here and abroad.
During the pre-game activities, the Nationals displayed an American Supports You advertisement on one of the stadium's massive public viewing screens.
Secretary England has participated in a number of America Supports You-hosted events.
"This is a wonderful program across the country for our military, but also for our citizens," the deputy defense secretary said. "It gives them an opportunity to support our military every day and to be able to come forward and say 'thank you' for their great service to our country."