I gained a renewed value for a culture of acceptance this summer by joining my unit’s softball team in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Not having played much baseball in my life, I decided to play with the Air National Guard I.G. Brown Training and Education Center’s “Notorious TEC” when the captain, Sergeant Smyser, told me it was just for fun and that the team was not overly serious.
That tolerance for new players was a good thing for me because I’m a stranger to team sports; considering that I wrestled in high school and then I took up running in my 20’s and made that my life’s experience.
As I had hoped, I’ve gained a lot. One lesson is that winning in softball relies on inclusion – unlike the lonely willpower used to finish a marathon.
My teammates have done their best to keep me thriving, despite my lack of skills. Sergeant Vann showed me how to run through first base. Sergeants Cook and Beiting showed me how to play third base. Sergeant Castro told me to wait for a good pitch. Sergeants Rogers and Aguirre positioned me best for second base. With others’ help, I feel part of the team, no matter how poorly I might play. I rave on how talented and merciful they all are.
The infield home run I hit in a recent game surprised the heck out of everyone. The thing is, I did not remember running all of the bases until a half dozen teammates congratulated me the following day. We won the game, but I remembered the mistakes that I made, throwing too high, missing a catch, etc.
Home runs are rare for most of us. If I did the same actions, if I sat in the same spot, wore the same clothes, choose the same equipment, chewed the same bubblegum the same number of chews, and all that, odds are I’m not going to hit another home run anytime soon. My prior experience tells me that I can’t do that, but I will improve for the team because I know that they appreciate me.
It’s fun to share success, even from something as trivial as playing softball. The highest praise for me comes from somebody I helped or improved on the journey. Like my awesome coworkers here, I celebrate when someone else makes the great play.
More importantly, and what I learned from these Airmen, is that team inclusion involves the acceptance and involvement of everyone, no matter if their skills and experience do not particularly match an immediate need. The hits to come will not only bring us around the bases in glory, but carry in the winning runs on first, second, and third base too.
That’s a grand slam for fostering a healthy climate in our U.S. Air Force and wherever we serve.
Fist pump, and batter up!