A Win-Win — for returning veterans and for officiating

Story by Rick Jaffe

What’s it like to fight for your country? 

Can you imagine? Can any of us? 

Most of us have no idea, no comprehension of what the brave men and women of this country go through to keep America safe. 

It goes way beyond the physical pain and mental suffering they’ve endured. The adjustment veterans have to make when they return home to civilian life can be staggering. We can chant, "USA, USA, USA’’ during an Olympics, and we can put our flags out in remembrance on Memorial Day and feel very patriotic, but it doesn’t begin to tell the story of sacrifice our veterans go through. 

Science says a normal adult has 20,000 thoughts per day. Knowing what returning veterans go through is normally not one of them. 

"When you come back you look at your mortality every day. When you come back, a lot of your humanness is gone,’’ said former Marine Patrick Gadut at the first meeting of veterans who were in Los Angeles on August 11 to hear Mike Pereira explain his new foundation, Battlefields to Ballfields.

"Coming back a lot of us have guilt of the things that we’ve done…the lives that are lost, our partners that aren’t around anymore so we have to do something to try and reclaim our humanity,’’ Gadut said. "Things like this actually bring us together and help us. It’s our way of showing we can be good people that we can still dig down inside us and show there’s still something good inside of us. Because a lot of us feel that we’re never going to get a shot at remaking our identity.''

A shot has arrived.

Pereira told the group that it was his dream to start this foundation so they could "join another team.’’ He said he wanted them to experience the rewards that he got from officiating, to get that special feeling when he walked out onto the field working with kids. And it doesn’t matter what sport veterans might be interested officiating in. 

"I don’t care which sport they want to officiate in. I don’t care if they want to work in three sports. It’s an exhilarating feeling,’’ Pereira said. ``I mean it really is, and you take abuse, but that goes with the nature of the beast and it’s really something.''

The plan is to get veterans involved in officiating and for those who qualify for a B2B scholarship, the foundation will pay for their National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) membership, their uniform, the equipment and their dues for the local association. The foundation will also have an officiating mentor assigned to each veteran and will guide them through the process. 

"Battlefields to Ballfields is such a cool organization. Football was such a huge part of my life much later in my years. Football was something that helped as I was transitioning from the military that continued camaraderie and team aspect,’’ said Nate Boyer, a former U.S. Army Green Beret as well as former long snapper for the University of Texas and current NFL free agent.  

"The opportunity for these guys and gals transitioning out to have an opportunity to work with a team again and to get involved with the sports world and with the youth and community is really special,’’ Boyer continued. ``There’s a lot that these people can offer society and the opportunity for the civilian world to embrace the veteran community in a different way. I’m really proud to be a part of it.''

Finding a sense of purpose and being part of a team again was a reoccurring theme that many of the veterans spoke about during the initial B2B meeting.

"A lot of times I hear about veterans that get out of the military and they have no sense of purpose and they have no support system for them to deal with that,’’ said former Marine, Ken Fitch. ``So there’s a higher rate of veteran suicide, veteran homelessness or joblessness so listening to Mike talk and being here with some of the veterans who have gotten out and trying to find a new sense of purpose to feel whole again, I’m proud to be a part of it.’'

Three veterans spoke of the unexpected opportunity Battlefields to Ballfields will provide. 

"It’s a great to see that there are people out there that care enough about veterans to provide a tremendous opportunity like this.’’ — Thomas Harris, Jr., former member of the U.S. Navy
"I’m very grateful. I was never really thinking about officiating, but I love baseball and football, so just to get a chance to be in the mix for this is a great opportunity." — Christian Perez, former Marine
"It’s something that I’ve never thought about. And since I’ve been out, I’ve missed that camaraderie and I think officiating is something that could help bring that back. On top of that, being able to give back to children and the youth is our future will bring that passion and will make me feel better again. So I’m very thankful for the opportunity.'' — Daniel Hinojosa, former member of the U.S. Army

We may never understand the unfathomable, never comprehend the inconceivable of what many veterans have gone through … but we can listen. 

"With combat vets like us, it’s really difficult to look yourself in the mirror and ask, `Am I really giving back to the humanity that I’ve either taken from myself, or taken from my own family?’" said former Marine Patrick Gadut. "Little things like this are so important to us because we don’t want anyone to have to go through what we’ve gone through. We don’t want them to do that.

"And when it comes to taking care of kids, taking care of that and giving them the that veteran identity, something that’s very respectful and we can move forward with it to where a kid can say, that official or that coach or I had a great mentor — someone who really cared — because the reality of it is, we are tried of not caring.’’

There’s a shortage of officiating in this country and there's a shortage of opportunities for returning veterans to ease back into to society with dignity and respect. Hopefully, Battlefields to Ballfields will be a wonderful solution for both. 

That’s a win-win — for returning veterans and for officiating.