Spring Training to the Troops a hit for girls, soldiers, families

FOX Sports North Girl Angie spends time with a soldier at Fort Bragg in North Carolina during the FOX Sports' Spring Training to the Troops initiative.

FOX Sports

Angie never saw the shooter.

When a shot hit her in the leg as she ran through the woods, she quickly found the nearest wall and took cover. Shots flew around her. A comrade implored her to rejoin the battle and fire back.

But the FOX Sports North Girl stayed huddled in the fetal position until the skirmish was over.

"That was the moment I realized I’m not cut out for combat," Angie said.

The projectile that struck her was a paintball. Her brother in arms was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer.

And it all took place on a training plot at Fort Bragg as part of FOX Sports’ Spring Training to the Troops initiative last week.

From Wednesday through Friday, Angie joined current and former MLB players and FOX Sports Girls from around the country for 2 ½ days of training with soldiers at the gigantic army base in North Carolina. In return, the FOX and baseball contingent put on a youth baseball clinic, visited schools on the base, ate with troops in their dining facilities and teamed up with some of them to play whiffle ball.

"This is a whole new experience for me," said Angie, who has three uncles who served in the military. "I have some military connections, which is why I was there, but for the most part, what you see in movies is what you think goes on. But I sat down with mechanics, GPS navigators, trackers and all kinds of people and saw a different side of it; not everyone’s on the front lines. You’ve got people working day-to-day operations overseas and here at home, and I enjoyed sitting down with troops and sharing a meal and hearing their stories and learning why people decide to join."

There was plenty of fun and fellowship, but Angie, her fellow FOX Sports Girls and Major Leaguers Archer, Mike Dunn (Marlins), Gabe Kapler (former player), Royce Clayton (former player), Chris Hammond (former player), Rex Hudler (Royals broadcaster, former player), Davey Nelson (Brewers broadcaster, former player), Jose Tolentino (former player), Bob Brenly (Diamondbacks announcer, former player/coach) and Mark McLemore (Rangers broadcaster, former player) were exposed to the rigors of daily Army life, too.

Each day, the group’s alarm clocks went off at 4:50 a.m. They spent the better part of the morning taking part in physical readiness training — a mix of distance running, cross-fit circuit training and strength exercises (mainly pushups and sit-ups).

The first day included a meeting with high-ranking officers in Fort Bragg’s briefing room, a question-and-answer session for children at the fort’s middle school and a parachute-packing contest.

According to Angie, it takes about half an hour to stuff one parachute into its container. Its lines are heavy, and each civilian present needed an assigned paratrooper guiding them to complete the task.

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"It’s definitely a workout," Angie said. "I think I broke out more of a sweat doing that than PRT in the morning. And to think about if you don’t take this job seriously, what the outcome can be if you don’t pack a parachute properly."

After readying the chutes, Angie and the group learned how to assess and treat wounds at the base’s Medical Simulation Training Center. Then, they navigated a wooded obstacle course that included an eight-foot wall to scale and a patch of muddy barb-wire fence to crawl under. Angie was then handed a paintball gun.

Not long after, she suffered her simulated casualty.

"They didn’t take it easy on us," Angie said. "These guys are trained to shoot and were hitting all of us. It was definitely an eye-opening experience; here I am walking around in the woods terrified, and that’s what people overseas have to go through every day, only it’s real."

The group then met up with other soldiers and their families — and families who have lost a member in combat — for a throwing, fielding and hitting clinic before the day came to a close.

On Day 2, the group jumped off a 34-foot parachuting simulation tower, observed gun and facility invasion training, then hopped in an Army tank for a ride to a local softball field, where the Girls, baseball players and one lucky unit divided up into teams and played whiffle ball.

Angie drove in a run for the victorious "Bragg-ing Rights" squad. "It was a pretty heated competition," she said.

Even on the day they left Fort Bragg, Angie and the rest of the Spring Training to the Troops crowd had to rise before dawn for what’s called a "payday run." The soldiers usually run 10 miles, but the sergeant in charge only required two on this occasion.

FOX Sports North's Angie

Throughout the trip, Angie was struck by the size of Fort Bragg. Located mostly in Fayetteville, N.C., the installment has a population of nearly 40,000, covers more than 251 square miles and is home to the Army’s Special Forces and airborne forces. It feels like more of a city than a military outpost, featuring schools, grocery stores and other urban amenities.

FOX Sports 1 will produce a 30-minute show detailing the excursion, and the national network and its regional affiliates will air features with players, soldiers and the FOX Sports Girls during spring-training and regular season MLB games this year.

"There were cameras on us from the second we got on the plane going to Ft. Bragg till we left," Angie said. "We were mic’d up for most of it, so you’ll be able to hear us during the paintball shooting or jump; there were some great reactions.

"We were just trying to show, in two days there, what our soldiers do all year long — a ‘day in the life’ of what these men and women do and how dedicated they are to serving our country."

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