Pro players welcome ‘Dragon’ Soldiers home
Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett watches Soldiers and Families reunite during a welcome-home ceremony for more than 200 from the 4th IBCT, 1st Inf. Div., Jan. 22 at Fort Riley. Photo by: Amanda Kim Stairrett, 1ST INF. DIV.
Story by: Amanda Kim Stairrett
1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS
A reporter implied Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett could relate to Soldiers because he, too, spent much of his time away from home during his 20-plus year career with the Kansas City Royals.
Brett was quick to distinguish the difference, saying his time on the road was spent in five-star hotels, eating fine food and playing baseball. He was not putting himself in harm's way and didn't experience the same stress Soldiers endure, he added.
Brett got a firsthand look at Soldiers reuniting with their loved ones following a combat deployment Jan. 22 when more than 200 from the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, returned to Fort Riley from Afghanistan.
While the stands were packed with cheering Family members and other loved ones, the visitors, most of whom wore blue Royals jerseys, watched from the sidelines, taking photos and video with their phones. The group included Brett; Jeremy Guthrie, current pitcher; Rex Hudler and Jeff Montgomery, Royals broadcasters; Sluggerrr the mascot; and other members of the Royals staff.
The players and staff visited Fort Riley as part of the Royals Caravan, which travels throughout the Midwest to visit fans. The group made a stop at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., before heading west to Fort Riley as part of its "Royals Salute Members of the Military!" tour.
The Royals are teaming with USO Fort Riley and Missouri in 2013 by collecting care package items and thank-you cards from fans.
Royals Charities donated $1 to the USO for every card received, according to information from the organization. The visiting members presented April Blackmon, USO Fort Riley, with a $10,000 check after the homecoming ceremony.
Brett watched Soldier homecomings on TV and online, but it was much better in person, he said. He made a point to buy sunglasses during the stop at Fort Leavenworth because he knew he would get teary-eyed.
It was a sight to see, he said of watching the Soldiers reunite with their loved ones.
"It's a pretty patriotic thing to see this firsthand," Brett said. "It's neat to be a part of something like this."
It is nice to have that support, especially from professional athletes, Cpl. Benjamin Wiesman said, after he, his wife, and son, 18 months, talked with Guthrie and got a few autographs and photos. Wiesman is assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4th IBCT. This was his second deployment.
Guthrie said it was tough to describe the experience, but he was impressed and humbled. It was remarkable to be a part of and witness the homecoming, he said.
Brett said he wished more people could attend these ceremonies because it was special. He would come back to Fort Riley for every return if permitted, he said.
Soldiers from the 4th IBCT will continue to return throughout February as the unit transitions out of Afghanistan following a nine month deployment.
For more photos from the ceremony, visit www.facebook.com/1stInfantryDivision.