by BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
The crowd at Bowen Field that was waiting for the start of game two of a doubleheader between the Princeton Rays and the Bluefield Blue Jays started cheering when Sgt. A.J. Wild of the 304th Military Police Company of the U.S. Army Reserve walked to the pitcher’s mound.
“Thank you 304th!” one male voice shouted from the stands.
“Welcome home, A.J.!” another male voice called out.
When Sgt. Wild threw a strike to the catcher for the ceremonial first pitch, the crowd erupted in a cheer that seemed twice as loud as the 1,084 people in attendance at the game should have been able to deliver.
“It feels good to be back home in West Virginia,” Wild said as he left the field and the Blue Jays started warming up in preparation for the start of the game. “People are people all over the world, but over there, the mountains are all barren. To be back here in these beautiful mountains — this is home.”
Wild, 41, has served in the U.S. Army Reserve since 1998. In civilian life, he works as a paramedic with the Princeton Rescue Squad. He completed his course work to become a critical care paramedic just before the 304th was activated last summer. “I still have not yet received my certification, but I’ll try to complete that when I get back.”
The 304th returned from a 9-month deployment in Afghanistan on July 8. After a 10-day to two-week “re-integration” period at Fort Bliss, Texas, the soldiers serving with the 304th went home where most are enjoying time with family and on vacation. Wild, who lives in Bluefield, returned from some additional “decompression” time to throw out the first pitch.
“The cheer from the crowd sounded a lot louder tonight than it did when I threw out the first pitch on July 4, last year after we were activated and preparing to deploy,” Wild said.
“Our assignment wasn’t anything like the jobs we have trained to do through the years,” Wild said. “We are a combat support company that is trained to provide convoy security, but we were used as correctional officers. We had training for that assignment before we left, and we did our jobs well. Everybody in our compound came back safely.”
The community prepared food enough for several soldiers to attend, but when Sgt. Wild and his family were the only ones who were close enough to attend on a short notice, there was plenty of food left over.
Command Sgt. Major Brian Krabbe, commander of the JROTC program at Montcalm High School and commander of the Riley-Vest Post 9 of the American Legion went to public address announcer Trey Wilson, and asked him to invite all veterans to enjoy the food the community provided.
Within a few minutes, the picnic concourse was filled with veterans of every branch of service.
Some of the veterans got food and returned to the stands while others stayed to visit.
“A.J. is going to take the cake back to the 304th headquarters so the entire company can enjoy it when they return to Bluefield,” Marie Blackwell, one of the community organizers said. “I think everything worked out well.”
“The hardest thing for us was that it was hard being away from our families,” Sgt. Wild said. “We took care of each other and everyone came back,” he said.
— Contact Bill Archer at email@example.com