Salute to G.I.s

Sean C. Morgan

Youth baseball team members honor departing soldiers, local vets

Four Sweet Home National Guardsmen headed to Afghanistan got an all-American send-off Saturday.

Members of the Sweet Home Midget American, ages 8-10, and Junior American, ages 11-12, baseball teams honored the soldiers and veterans at a special barbecue and baseball game on Saturday at Roy Johnston Park.

The four Sweet Home Guardsmen will shortly deploy for 400 days. They include Staff Sgt. John Parsons, Pvt. Tyler Holley, Sgt. Casey Johnson and Pvt. Chris Lay.

After posing with the two teams on a National Guard Humvee, the soldiers joined the teams and veterans on the field to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Greg Hagle prayed that God would watch over the soldiers.

Holly threw the first pitch to his little brother, Russell, 8, a member of the Midget American team.

Joe Chiaffino, just retired as a chief petty officer after 20 years in the Navy, was named honorary umpire to yell, “Play Ball!”

High School baseball Coach Matt Matuszak handled ump duties for the game, which was not part of the regular youth baseball season.

Thirty-two National Guardsmen will deploy from Lebanon with the Charlie Troop, 1/82 Cavalry to Shindand Air Base in Afghanistan, said Parson, who has served one tour each already in Iraq and Afghanistan. They will train in Idaho and Texas before going overseas.

Normally, they do reconnaissance, Parsons said. They won’t be during this deployment. They’ll handle a variety of jobs and provide support for the air base.

He noted that a third of the unit based in Lebanon are from Sweet Home.

“Just find out who they are and get to know them,” he said. “Get to know those guys and understand what we do.”

Holly’s father, Tim Holly, said he and his wife, Linda, were talking one day about their son being in the National Guard and preparing to deploy.

“It kind of opened my eyes,” Holly said. No one really lets anyone know about it, and they’ll be gone more than a year.

“We thought it would be a neat deal to do a game and honor the soldiers that are leaving,” Holly said. They also thought about the veterans in the community, those who people may not think about or thank for their service.

He checked with the parent group and then with other teams in his league but couldn’t get a game so he started looking in other divisions, Holly said. It wasn’t about winning, so he was happy to match his team up with the older Junior American team from Sweet Home.

It turned out that the Junior American coach, Mike Chiaffino, was also a veteran, Holly said.

He noted that his children look up to athletic heroes, but these soldiers are the ones they should look at, Holly said. “They’re not perfect, but what he’s doing is very honorable.”

Holly began looking back at the connection between baseball and soldiers, he said. He discovered Hank Greenberg, who gave up $55,000 per year playing baseball to take a $21-per-month job after he asked to be reevaluated for the draft in 1940.

Tyler noted that last week was the anniversary of the death of Pat Tillman, who gave up millions of dollars and a professional football career to join the Army Rangers following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

He served several tours and was killed by friendly fire on April 22, 2004.

The turnout was good for an event with such limited publicity, Holly said, and he received numerous compliments and thanks from veterans.