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Boston Red Sox Faithful Watch From Iraq

By Pfc. Matthew McLaughlin, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 26, 2004 – While these soldiers' battle scars may not be transparent, rest assured the war they wage has taken its toll emotionally. Despite apparently insurmountable obstacles and a history of pain and suffering, they continue to believe in their common cause.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
From the right, Army Capt. Ryan Leonard, Maj. Rick Smudin and Col. Mark A. Milley, all New England residents, watch Game 2 of the World Series from a conference room in Iraq. Though it aired Oct. 24 at night in the States, the time difference brought Boston Red Sox fans together starting around 3 a.m. Oct. 25 in Iraq to watch this game. The contests finish sometimes minutes before daily briefings. Photo by Pfc. Matthew McLaughlin, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Yes, it has been a tough 86 years for Boston Red Sox fans. No one has experienced the history of numerous dramatic tragedies more than native New England soldiers, deployed to Iraq, who keep a flame of hope for their home team thousands of miles away.

Because of time-zone differences, most of the Major League Baseball playoff games are aired on American Forces Network at 3 a.m. or later in Iraq. Considering the long workdays of a soldier here, having the devotion to watch the Sox play night after night is nothing to wave a bat at. Soldiers gather before the daybreak in the televised conference room at Camp Liberty here to cheer their team on.

Being with fellow fans is just as important as actually seeing the game, said Army Maj. Rick Smudin from Natick, Mass. "Being a fan is about being with other fans," he said. "If I didn't have other fans to watch it with, I wouldn't get up for it every day. We're like a support group."

One soldier Smudin can count on is Capt. Ryan Leonard, a Durham, N.H., native, who watched every playoff game this year. He said he is ecstatic to watch the World Series with fellow soldiers of the "Red Sox Nation." They are all hoping to see the Sox accomplish a feat many have not lived to see.

"Eighty-six years. That's my father and grandfather who haven't lived to see the Red Sox win," he said.

Leonard even wears a Red Sox patch on his desert aviation uniform. "It's my way of supporting the Sox," he said.

While it is not standard uniform in the military, Col. Mark A. Milley, a Winchester, Mass., native and 2nd Brigade Combat Team commander, makes an exception for a fellow Red Sox fan.

Of all the Red Sox faithful in the 10th Mountain Division, Milley is the most experienced in Red Sox triumph and tragedy. A "charter member of the Red Sox Nation," Milley had soldiers wake him up for the final innings of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. Some games finished minutes before his daily briefing from his brigade staff. Much to their relief, the Red Sox did not lose to their hated rival.

"It makes me miserable if they lose," he said. "My staff has an easy day when the Red Sox win. They breathe a sigh of relief when they win."

Milley also watched the ALCS last year from Afghanistan. That time he saw his team fall to the Yankees in a dramatic Game 7. "It crushed me," he said.

If something Milley loves caused him such pain, why does he continue to root for the home team? "The essence of being a Sox fan is masochism," Smudin said. "Fan is short for fanatic. Sooner or later, Charlie Brown should learn not to kick the football. We've all been through the same thing."

The three soldiers' relation to the Red Sox is eerily similar. Milley was nine in 1967 when the team lost to its current World Series opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals. Smudin also witnessed the Sox lose at age 9 at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds in 1975. Leonard was 10 in 1986 when the Red Sox lost to the New York Mets in yet another disappointing loss.

"We grew up without a World Series title," Milley said. "The Red Sox are the cross we bear. We're scarred children looking to heal our childhood. I suffered an early loss in 1967. I still have the pennant. My childhood heroes were (former Red Sox greats) Carl Yastrzemski and Rico Petrocelli."

Despite a history of disappointment, the soldiers of the Red Sox Nation say they have hope for this year's team. "We're seeing history in the making," Milley said. "This is the only year since I was 9 years old that I believe we are going to win, but I never lost the faith."

While all Red Sox fans would rather be in Boston for the World Series, they are elated to see their team where they belong and will cheer them on from a distance together. "I'd rather be in Boston," Smudin said. "But if they win, the memories of watching the World Series will always connect me to my experiences in Iraq."

Watching the series also gives soldiers a chance to feel somewhat at home in a war zone. "It provides a little corner of home," Milley said. "It's a refuge from the current war. The only thing we're missing is the Fenway Franks and peanuts."

The game moves to St. Louis today, with the Red Sox leading the Series 2-0.

(Army Pfc. Matthew McLaughlin is assigned to 10th Mountain Division Public Affairs.)

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Related Sites:
Multinational Force Iraq
10th Mountain Division


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