Chad Ohmer’s legs weren’t going to allow him to get out of his wheelchair quick enough as the 25-year-old watched Joey Votto’s fly ball sail into the left field stands but no one stood taller or cheered louder for the Reds’ first baseman than Ohmer last Friday.
“Woo-hoooo! Here we go Joey!!”
Twenty minutes earlier it was Ohmer who was receiving a standing ovation from the more than 40,000 attending the game at Great American Ball Park against the Cubs. As much as everyone loves the long ball, the cheers for Ohmer were the loudest, the most sincere and heart-felt of the evening.
On May 25, 2012, Marine Lance Cpl. Chad Ohmer and his team of three others came under attack by two Improvised Explosive Devices while patrolling a tunnel in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The first explosion killed the Navy Corpsman medic assigned to the team and severely injured a second team member. While Cpl. Ohmer was attending to that Marine – Steve – a second IED hidden underneath Steve exploded.
“When I got blown up it threw me 20 feet. I was conscious through the whole thing. I remember flying through the air and it was slow motion. All I saw was dust flying up from the sand,” said Cpl. Ohmer. “I remember flying through the air just thinking ‘Holy crap, I just got blown up’.”
One day shy of one year following this attack, after 24 operations as part of the limb salvage procedure attempting to save Cpl. Ohmer’s left foot, he pushed himself to the top of the Reds’ dugout in the middle of the second inning with the aid of two canes and his father, Dave. It was the largest step Cpl. Ohmer had taken since the attack.
“Everyone, without coming up and saying thank you, said ‘Thank you.’ That means a lot to me,” said Cpl. Ohmer. “Especially after things like Vietnam when those guys came back and they got spit on and stuff like that. Everything that armed service members do that people overlook, they don’t understand the things that we go through on a day-to-day basis, and they never could. Most of these people never will understand.”
We all recognize our military heroes, past and present, on Memorial Day but the recognition of Cpl. Ohmer was not a one-day salute from the Reds. The organization from president and chief executive officer Bob Castellini at the top on down has made a commitment to honor the military throughout the season through various programs, including the Hometown Hero recognition that Cpl. Ohmer was a part of at every home game.
“The Reds consider it an honor and privilege to recognize the United States military in any way we can,” said Castellini, who spent two years as an Army officer in the mid-1960s. “Their service and sacrifice are why we are free.”
The Hometown Hero program began in 2011 as a pregame activity on special occasions but with the overflow requests and suggestions the Reds were getting from military families and friends for first pitch honorees it evolved into the every-day occurrence it now is. The program is filled up for the remainder of the 2013 season and already on a waiting list for next season.
“Not only is it okay but it’s something we should be doing to focus on these men and women that protect us and give us the freedoms that we enjoy every day,” said Phil Castelli, Reds’ chief operating officer. “They help protect these freedoms every day. The social consciousness is there and it’s not something you only do on Veterans Day or the Fourth of the July.”
Right fielder Jay Bruce hosts “Bruce’s Battalion” which is a free ticket program for service members to Sunday home games. Bruce took over the program that former pitcher Aaron Harang started up.
Every Opening Day the Reds and Cincinnati Bell host a group from Impact A Hero, a national foundation that helps wounded military men and women with both emotional and financial support. Started by Fairfield’s Dick Lynch in 2004, Impact a Hero assists between 400 and 500 service members annually.
“It may be the case that we have to call up an electric company and make sure they don’t turn off the electric. We’ll do a wire transfer to a wounded veteran’s checking account and that will be used a lot of times for rent, utilities, food and gas, Christmas presents for the kids,” said Lynch.
Bob Castellini will meet with the Impact A Hero group for breakfast on Opening Day. When the group is honored on the field pregame, manager Dusty Baker comes out to meet with them. Baker’s father and uncle were in the Navy in World War II. He and his brother were in the reserves in the late 1960s; Dusty was in the Marine Reserves during the Vietnam War.
“You weren’t as proud as these guys are now. You weren’t applauded going through the airport. Now you join the service because you want to. Back then you joined the service because you had to,” said Baker. “Some of the best things that happened to me was because I was in the reserves. I was playing ball, I was young and it taught me discipline. That’s what really taught me teamwork as much as anything because you might not like this kid from wherever and he might not like you but that teamwork is the epitome of guarding a guy’s back you don’t like. This little stuff we have out here is nothing.
“I really respect and admire the guys who are in the military now.”
There is sincerity for how the Reds go about their recognition that stands out, said Lynch.
“When the ballpark in Goodyear (Arizona) opened up, Bob called me up and wanted to make sure that wounded vets were there. So on game one, the first guys and gals introduced were wounded vets from the Arizona area,” said Lynch. “That’s going the extra mile.”
As Cpl. Ohmer got down off of the dugout last Friday night and headed up the more than 40 steps back to the concourse level he was stopped by fans simply wanting to shake his hand and give him a personal ‘Thank you’, extending the ovation he had just received.
As easily as you and I make that walk, it was 40 more steps in Cpl. Ohmer’s recovery. That much exertion causes swelling and pain in his legs and feet, more than he lets on. He still has a long way to go in his recovery but Friday night helped.
“It was very emotional because he’s come a long way in his year,” said Renae Ohmer as she held the couple’s 9-month-old daughter Emma. “The last game we were at they did a little interview with him up here. He was in a different wheelchair and couldn’t move his legs. It was a big difference for him to be able to walk up there. It means a lot for everybody to cheer for him. He was very determined to get up there.”