By Jose T. Garza III
502nd Air Base Wing
LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, Aug. 24, 2011 – 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.
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.
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.