MORRISVILLE, N.C. - Soldiers of the North Carolina National Guard hosted the USA Baseball 15U National Team at the NCNG's flight facility recently.
The team, composed of 15 years old and younger youth, visited the site as part of their break in competition from a series of warm up games in the area in preparation for the upcoming Pan American Championships in Barranquilla, Columbia.
“This engagement was to show these guys about how we work together as a team and what it means to represent the United States,” said Army Col. Todd Hunt, director of Joint Operations for the NCNG.
Hunt coordinated for multiple NCNG staff sections and units to help create a unique experience for the young Americans. The soldiers split the team into three groups. Each group got a chance to fly in a high-tech helicopter flight simulator, try on body armor and other military gear, see an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter up close and learn more about the NCNG mission.
“The USA Baseball tour was a great opportunity for community relations and to give back to very supportive citizens in the local area,” said Army Maj. Benny Collins, the Army Aviation Support Facility Commander in Morrisville. “Both the coaches and the athletes were eager to learn about the military.”
"It’s important for our guys to see what it’s like to represent our country every day," said Brooks Webb, director of the 15U National Team Program.
After a quick brief on how to keep from crashing in the virtual world, the players got first-hand experience of what it was like to sit at the controls of the flight simulator. As the new novice ‘pilots’ went solo, their teammates complimented their performance with cheers or with a mix of laughter. The teens anxiously took on the challenge of flying the aircraft and one of the teens actually managed to maintain level flight.
"Most people never get to do this, let alone a 15-year-old kid," said Mason Thompson, a pitcher from Round Rock, Texas.
Other NCNG soldiers showed off the real thing! With an apache helicopter as a backdrop, the Army aviators explained their mission. The group of experienced pilots answered many questions; in particular they addressed the cannon, missile and rocket pods weapons that are part of the aircraft’s arsenal.
Members of the NCNG’s B Company, 3-20th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Herring and Sgt. 1st Class Austin Walther, offered a little motivation as well. The two special operators shared their experiences during multiple deployments as part of one of our nation’s elite military forces; the Green Berets.
"It is scary that they [NCNG] go into battle so much; I was shocked," said Jordan Butler, a pitcher from Tampa, Fla.
The Special Forces unit gave the players a chance to see the tools of NCNG soldiers’ trade. The veterans watched the young athletes squirm as they tried on heavy body armor and helmets. Some players even got to hold weapons that were made safe for display.
After each demonstration, Herring gave every team member a small United States Flag and gave them a bit of advice when representing the nation.
“Do not forget that you may be the only American they ever meet, be an ambassador for our country,” said Herring.