FOX Sports Arizona Girl Sarah reflects on Fort Bragg visit
Sarah shares favorite memories, reflections from time with soldiers as part of 'Spring Training to the Troops' initiative.
By Sarah Brooks
Sometimes a four-day trip is enough to create memories that will last a lifetime.
This year, FOX Sports brought "Spring Training to the Troops" to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. On Feb. 4, some of MLB's best past and present players joined 11 FOX Sports Girls in saluting the troops at the world's largest Army installation -- Fort Bragg. At that evening's meet-and-greet, we shared stories of the reasons for our military appreciation, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of us had some family connection to the services.
On Wednesday, we were back on the bus at 5:45 a.m. local time (2:45 am in my home state of Arizona) heading off to PRT -- physical readiness training. The first morning of PRT consisted of a one-mile run, which really should have been called a 1-mile sprint. No, really!
Even with the fast pace of our morning run, the soldiers continuously sang their cadences loud and proud. One cadence that I remember said, "One mile -- no sweat! Two miles -- better yet. Three miles -- gotta run. Four miles -- just for fun!" Yeah, you heard that right -- four miles just for fun. It's not uncommon for these soldiers to run between five and 10 miles daily.
After that morning's PRT, me and the other FOX Sports Girls were lucky enough to participate in various training practices from different divisions within the U.S. Army. The Medical Simulation Training Center gave me an extremely realistic glimpse at how Army medics operate during combat. Having a healthcare background and previous experience working at the VA Hospital, I was sure I could be a leader in demonstrating how to bandage a wound. As it turned out, I was in over my head.
Combat simulation changes everything. It created a high level of pressure to perform the medical care precisely and at a rapid, life-saving pace. The wounded mannequins were so lifelike that it created an eerie feeling in the pit of my stomach. We were told the mannequins, approximately 130 pounds with amputated limbs, can stop breathing or blink and stare at you and also have the ability to sporadically squirt blood from their wounds. Let's just say that combining the duties of a medic with a soldier's atmosphere during combat is one of the most mentally and physically exhausting experiences I've had. I cannot express the amount of gratitude and admiration I have for these brave men and women.
Another exciting practice that I participated in was learning how to pack a parachute, with the soldiers demonstrating. They maneuvered the apparatus in such a swift way that they made it look easy! In reality, packing a parachute requires an unbelievable amount of strength and precision. Some of these elite parachute packers are so efficient that they can pack one parachute in just 15 minutes. And each soldier in this division packs 25 per day! With A LOT of assistance, I was able to pack one parachute in around 30 minutes. Upon completion, I was winded and red in the face and had a blistered hand. Yet none of these ailments bothered me because I knew they were nothing in comparison to the daily tasks performed by these amazing soldiers. At that point, the soldiers suited me up with all the necessary equipment for jumping out of an airplane. The equipment weighed 50 pounds, and they told me they sometimes wear it for up to three hours before jumping. This was another example of a time when I felt an immeasurable amount of respect for our troops.
Sarah poses for a photo with Sgt. Spann at Fort Bragg.
As an avid adrenaline junkie, I was ecstatic to participate in the 34-foot tower jump. This tower jump, which operates similar to a zip line, prepares soldiers for jumping out of planes. Needless to say, I jumped to the front of the line faster than you can yell "AIRBORNE!" During this activity, I met Sergeant Spann, an amazing soldier from Paradise Valley, Ariz. He has proudly served overseas and, of course, is U.S. Army Airborne Certified! Thank you, Sgt. Spann!
Throughout the entire trip, there was a lot of excitement building up for the second annual military wiffleball game. Prior to the wiffleball competition, all of us FOX Sports Girls and the MLB players joined together to host a youth baseball clinic. Attendees of the baseball clinic were the children of the soldiers who are stationed at Fort Bragg as well as kids from Gold Star Families. The children of Gold Star Families have lost a parent during active military duty.
At the youth baseball clinic, I met a very shy boy named William who is a Gold Star child. He was pretty quiet but stood tall, almost as if he was maintaining that "Army strong" type of exterior in remembrance of his father, who died while serving. The next day, as the wiffleball game got started, I looked into the large crowd and somehow immediately spotted William. My initial reaction was to smile, and surprisingly, the timid boy I had met the day before smiled back at me. I was overwhelmed with a sense of connection and realized that a child's smile could be a measurement of the importance of these types of trips. For a brief moment, that young boy's life was brightened as he smiled while watching some of the MLB's best players join the U.S. Army's strongest in playing ball.
With the majority of the game's home runs coming from the soldiers, it was obvious that Fort Bragg's troops are elite athletes on both fields.
The last physical activity on the final day was a 2.1-mile "Pay Day" run. This run is a long-standing Army tradition in which soldiers run on the first Friday of every month to pick up their paychecks. What I remember most about this run is the unity of the troops. I was told the run is intended to keep everyone together, in formation, running as one. Believe it or not, running in one large formation can be challenging. I found myself focusing intently on not running too fast and colliding with those in front of me and also not running too slow to impede those behind me. Every run, whether fast and challenging or steady and unifying, has a deep purpose.
The physical activities were eye-opening, but the one-on-one conversations I had with the Fort Bragg soldiers were the most heartwarming experiences of the trip. I walked away from each of these conversations cherishing the personal stories that they shared with me. I have an immense amount of respect for the brave men and women of the U.S. Army. Although my admiration, appreciation and respect for the Army are immeasurable, there is one thing I can be very certain of: It takes a one-of-a-kind type of person to become a U.S. Army soldier.