This past Veterans Day I was able to return to Longview, Texas, for a second year, as I joined Combat Warriors Inc. to celebrate our country’s heroes. This year we were able to bring in 17 special operations personnel (some of whom are still serving, and others who are veterans), who we were able to hang with and serve. It was honestly the most patriotic I’ve ever felt in my life.
The way this town embraces the soldiers who come in is extremely special. Every year on Veterans Day, they arrange for private jets to fly in these men, who are surprised at the airport by game wardens, government officials, a group of motorcycling veterans and others are eager to welcome them.
Then there’s a full procession put on downtown for these heroes. Businessmen, schools and everyone else in town comes out to the street waving flags and chanting, “USA!” with loud enthusiasm. Elementary-age kids hold signs up high in support of these men. The drive through town lasts a few hours before we’re able to then cater to these men for the rest of the weekend through great meals and hunts.
Being my second year there, it was really neat for me to see a few of last year’s soldiers return. I was able to hear stories from these men about how life-changing this event was for them. It was so influential for them that they both recruited new soldiers to attend this year and returned themselves to help out in any way they could. We saw Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Delta soldiers and pararescue guys come in. And after these men experience this weekend, they go back to their unit and find someone they can sponsor the following year. The only obligation these men have once they leave this weekend is to stay in touch with the group and pass along this opportunity to a soldier who really needs it. Yes, this weekend is only a three-day event but it means the world to these guys.
Combat Warriors Inc. is an amazing organization that serves these veterans, who really need and deserve it. I randomly ran into the founder of Combat Warriors Inc. in the airport one day. He was a fan of Duck Commander, and knew me from my baseball career, so he approached me. As we talked, he shared with me about Combat Warriors Inc. and the work they do for our military, and he then invited me on one of their hunts. I couldn’t make it that year, but during the following offseason I did join them, and I found myself incredibly impressed by their program. Since then, our E3 foundation and Combat Warriors have joined forces to host many hunts and events for our country’s heroes.
I really liked playing baseball for a while. It wasn’t my everything; it didn’t take first priority in my life, but I truly did enjoy it. That being said, I don’t miss it at all. I don’t wonder what it would be like if I stayed around longer, and I don’t wish I was still playing. These realities are only further confirmation that it was the right time for me to step away when I did. The more I played the more I realized how blessed I was to have the opportunity and platform of baseball. I can see how crushing it would be for men who are forced to stop halfway through their potential career due to an injury or illness. They no longer have a mission for their lives; they don’t know where to go next. The same is true for many men in the military. Without a mission or purpose after their time spent in service, they dive into depression and sometimes end their own lives. Furthermore, without their uniform on, they don’t receive the same amount of respect they used to.
For a long time, baseball was my mission field. Now, my mission field has changed. As a player, I had a large platform and the opportunity to have a huge influence on others simply because of my title. Now that I am out of the game, that notoriety gives me an easier time gaining credibility with veterans. The barrier they’ve naturally built up — which normally takes a while to break down — is significantly shortened because of my career both in baseball and in hunting.
I never want to use my title or status as a way to take advantage of others, but I will use whatever God has blessed and equipped me with to serve others. Baseball was my platform for a long time, and even today it’s a great way to reach others with the love of Christ.
— Adam LaRoche is a former MLB player. He is a regular contributor to The Increase, providing monthly articles and opinions.