Face of Defense: Airman Honors Vets Via Baseball

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Air Force Staff Sgt. Craig LeBlanc said the oppor­tu­ni­ty to hon­or U.S. vet­er­ans and meet with base­ball heroes dur­ing a near month-long jour­ney from New Orleans to ground zero in New York City ear­li­er this year was an expe­ri­ence he’ll nev­er for­get.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Craig LeBlanc, who was a mem­ber of the “Heroes of the Dia­mond” base­ball club ear­li­er this year, stands along­side U.S. Navy vet­er­an Everett Swan­son, a sur­vivor of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Har­bor that caused Amer­i­ca to enter World War II. LeBlanc is a mil­i­tary train­ing instruc­tor assigned to the 331st Train­ing Squadron at Lack­land Air Force Base, Texas.
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LeBlanc, an instruc­tor assigned to the 331st Train­ing Squadron here, was select­ed as one of sev­er­al mil­i­tary ambas­sadors for the “Heroes of the Dia­mond” club, a nation­al team char­tered with pro­mot­ing good­will and mil­i­tary aware­ness through the sport of base­ball. “It was tru­ly a priv­i­lege,” LeBlanc said about play­ing on the HOD team. “I was giv­en the free­dom to play base­ball, and it was an hon­or to rep­re­sent the Air Force. I know what the flag means to me and what it rep­re­sents. I’m proud to be wear­ing the red, white and blue.”

Team mem­bers began their tour Jan. 1 from New Orleans. They trav­eled to Philadel­phia and sev­er­al oth­er cities, where they dis­played the ground zero flag to thou­sands of Amer­i­cans, includ­ing ser­vice mem­bers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though LeBlanc since has returned to his instruc­tor duty, the team con­tin­ues its jour­ney across the Unit­ed States. It’s sched­uled to arrive at its final des­ti­na­tion in New York on Sept. 11, offi­cials said. There, at the site of the for­mer World Trade Cen­ter tow­ers, the flag will be pre­sent­ed and per­ma­nent­ly dis­played.

As a mil­i­tary ambas­sador for the HOD, LeBlanc met sev­er­al base­ball leg­ends at the Base­ball Hall of Fame in Coop­er­stown, N.Y., includ­ing Pete Rose, Ozzie Smith and Yogi Berra.

“Meet­ing Yogi Berra was one of the coolest times ever,” LeBlanc said. “He is a base­ball leg­end, and it is not every day you get to shake the hand of a base­ball leg­end.”

The tour also pro­vid­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties to meet with mil­i­tary vet­er­ans, and fam­i­lies of the fall­en from the 9/11 attacks, LeBlanc said. Hear­ing their sto­ries, he said, made him real­ize how for­tu­nate he is.

“I always tell my wife and kids that I love them,” LeBlanc said. “Life is too pre­cious to let it go to waste.”

LeBlanc said he was proud to be wear­ing the red, white and blue on his chest as part of his HOD base­ball uni­form. Every play­er on the team, he added, wears a num­ber that rep­re­sents a his­toric day or fig­ure in Amer­i­can his­to­ry.

“I wear No. 21, which rep­re­sents the Tomb of the Unknowns [at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery],” LeBlanc said.

Cut­ting the trip short and return­ing home before this year’s 9/11 obser­vance in New York City was dif­fi­cult, he said, but duty called and air­men must place ser­vice before self, he added.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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