A baseball stadium would never be confused for a U.S. Army base, and no one would mistake a khaki and polo-clad Minor League front office member for fatigues-wearing servicemen and women.
But there are more similarities between these two distinct occupations and environments than one might realize, as those employed within both must be able display a team-first mindset, think on their feet and take on a wide variety of tasks at a moment's notice. With the Iraq war over and U.S. involvement in Afghanistan winding down, might it be possible that our recently deployed troops could transition from the serious business of defending our country to the fun and games of Minor League Baseball?
The Potomac Nationals think so, and with the Army's support, their "Hire A Vet" pilot program could expand not just throughout the rest of the Carolina League, but the 160-team entirety of Minor League Baseball.
Helping soldiers transition to civilian life is currently one of the Army's primary areas of focus, with Chief of Staff Ray Odierno recently remarking that "we must do our utmost to ensure that the soldiers leaving the force are treated fairly and that they and their families are provided with support."
"Hire A Vet" is very much in line with these goals, and though its potential is vast, the program emerged in a humble and almost incidental fashion. The P-Nats' Woodbridge, Va., location is in close proximity to Washington, D.C., and as a result, team vice president and general manager Josh Olerud has partnered with the Pentagon on a variety of marketing and charitable initiatives. This offseason he pitched the idea of a program that would help soldiers transitioning from wartime environments, and given its current priorities, the Army was immediately receptive.
"We'd worked with Josh previously and had some general discussions on how to help veterans, and [Hire A Vet] was just the sort of thing we were looking for," said Major Jesse Johnson of Army Public Affairs. "We want to use Minor League Baseball to do a couple different things. We want to help secure jobs, of course. But additionally, it's a way for the community to see what the Army has to offer and what we bring to the table in terms of professionalism, leadership and the ability to perform in stressful situations. ... The skills we bring can be invaluable to an organization, and we think that by working with Minor League Baseball, we can get that message out there."
Hire A Vet is currently in what Olerud calls its "test tube" phase.
"Our long-term goal with the Army is to fulfill full-time positions," he said. "But starting out, we thought that seasonal employment would be the best way to approach this as there are more positions we can offer."
The P-Nats' job offer, promoted through internal Army channels, caught the attention of Arthur Bouvier IV. A retired sergeant with a 2-year-old child whose wife is still in the military, Bouvier had served in Iraq and, more recently, logged six months in Afghanistan as a contractor. He applied because the P-Nats were located in close proximity to his Maryland home, and he "thought it would be great to work for a baseball team."
Olerud said that Bouvier was "overqualified, if anything" and soon invited him to join the staff under the catch-all title of "assistant of ballpark operations."
"[Bouvier] is wearing a lot of hats right now -- he's a utility man through and through," said Olerud. "He's often troubleshooting in different departments, working in the parking lot or the kids zone or clocking people in and out. ... He's done everything possible, even an airport run [to pick up newly arrived players.]"
"I think I have the ability to adapt to and tackle any job without much guidance, and I know what the outcome should be before going into it," said Bouvier, who is pursuing an associate's degree in addition to his current position with Potomac. "I think the most challenging thing so far has been keeping the scoreboard and then having to report what happened at the end of every inning to Minor League Baseball."
The Big Picture
This offseason, the P-Nats held their annual job fair before the Hire A Vet program came into being, but now that it is in place, Olerud plans on offering far more opportunities in 2014. The other seven Carolina League clubs is set to jump on board as well, with Olerud mentioning that the current goal is for every team to add a veteran to its staff by the beginning of June. Carolina League president John Hopkins was traveling at the time this article was written but recently remarked in a P-Nats press release that "[t]hose of us who have been in baseball a long time know the value of veterans as employees, and we are happy to share this experience with our fans and business partners."
League-wide participation is a great start, but it represents just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the opportunities that the industry could potentially provide.
"Ultimately, we'd love to work with all 160 teams in Minor League Baseball, because what Minor League Baseball represents is a cross-section of American society," said Major Johnson. "These teams are located all over the country, away from the major markets, and that's where so many of our soldiers come from. Not everyone is going to want to settle in a large market, and this is the type of program that could offer our soldiers the opportunity to go back to their hometowns.
"Americans have supported us unconditionally [in wartime] with their prayers and contributions," he added, "and now we're looking forward to them embracing us as we return home and blend back in with society."