Battaglia Reflects on New Orleans, Jacksonville Trip
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., June 12, 2014 Focusing on the commitment to service, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently completed a two-leg trip that included volunteer work, talks with troops and veterans, as well as building a relationship with a professional sports organization.
The Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, left, alongside former World War II Army Pfc. Samuel Muldrew, 91, and Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown on the sidelines of EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., during the USA and Nigeria teams’ soccer match, June 7, 2014. DOD photo by Terri Moon Cronk
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia spoke with American Forces Press Service June 8 about his stops in New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, last week and how his travels culminated in an outreach partnership with the USA Men’s Soccer World Cup team.
During the June 6 USA team practice as Team USA players prepared to face the Nigerian national team in a pre-World Cup matchup at EverBank Field, here, 23 area service members represented the armed forces by presenting a set of dog tags to each of the players as a gesture of good will. One tag listed the service member’s vitals, and the other had the player’s vitals, and an American flag was embossed on the back.
“We in the armed forces know all too well what commitment to service is. We wanted to share that methodology, behavior and philosophical concept,” Battaglia said, adding that giving team players the dog tags was a way to share the team’s and the military’s commonality of serving the nation.
“We try to express through example through [such] ceremonies to answer the question, ‘Why do you service members do what you do? Why are you willing to put your life on the line, and why is your service so important, so patriotic?’ That’s the outreach,” he explained.
Members of USA Men’s Soccer World Cup team now join the NFL and the NBA as part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Sports Outreach Initiative. “[The chairman] wants to partner with all professional [sports] organizations” as part of the initiative, Battaglia said.
The NFL partnership focuses on traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress syndrome research. The NBA Cares Hoops for Troops program is hosted by veterans and service members, and in partnership with DOD and the USO, it honors active-duty service members and veterans.
Battaglia said he’d like to see the sports outreach initiative and its relationship-building efforts extend to role modeling for America’s youth.
“It’s something we're lacking in America. Our youth tend to select mentors based on fame and fortune and not necessarily ideals and values,” he noted. “These athletes have the attention of our youth, and I want to expand that part of the community for athletes, service members and our youth to set the example, to be the ideal role models.”
The armed forces and the nation’s professional sports organizations are “in this together,” Battaglia said.
“We represent a very large picture -- and that picture contains the stars and stripes of our United States,” he said. “From sportsmanship to ambassadorship, we want to maintain the highest ethical and moral high ground, however fierce the competition may get from the battlefield to the basketball court. We represent our nation and we want to do it honorably. We’re honored to partner with those professional sporting organizations.”
Battaglia and his wife Lisa visited his hometown, New Orleans where they helped active-duty service members and veterans renovate the oldest Veterans of Foreign Wars post. The post, he said, is drawing the newest generation of veterans.
“The interests, desires and needs of the today’s generation aren’t the same as the older generation,” the SEAC said. “In today’s VFW, you might find an internet café, whereas you wouldn’t see that in yesteryear’s VFW.” The New Orleans’ VFW post is committed to helping veterans transition back into the community, he added.
“We really wanted to be a model, because after life in the service, service still continues and the obligation and moral belonging doesn’t stop because you hang up your uniform,” he said.
In New Orleans, the Battaglias met with senior leadership and participated in a panel on traumatic brain injury. They also attended an event commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the SEAC accepted a distinguished service award on behalf of all Louisianans who served in the U.S. armed forces.
Meeting with service members, their families and veterans, Battalglia said, helps him keep his finger on the pulse of the force and the veteran population as he reports to the chairman and defense secretary.
The Battaglias also lunched with the Jacksonville Military Veterans Coalition where the sergeant major said he gleaned best practices to take back to DOD.
The coalition comprises a board of veterans, the mayor and a retired Navy rear admiral. “They really get it as to what’s needed for the reintegration phase of the veteran coming back into the community. That’s pretty crucial,” he said.
While traveling, Battaglia said he looks at how he can help connect cities, their military installations and Veterans Affairs facilities, because those elements are critical in how veterans, active duty service members, reservists, Guardsmen and military families interact in becoming part of a community.
“Here in Jacksonville, though, I found myself learning about what they do because it’s the first city I’ve seen that’s a model of how it engages and interacts with its veterans, the bases, the VA and community at large,” he said, calling the city a leading model in its best practices to welcome veterans.
During a visit to the Five-Star Veterans Center, the SEAC met privately with homeless veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“[The meetings] gave me some ideas and thoughts on how we transition our service members thoroughly so we minimize the risk of them ever having to wind up in that condition,” he said.
The Battaglias spent the final evening in Jacksonville attending the soccer game between teams USA and Nigeria. The United States won, 2-1, and is in Brazil for the World Cup, which began this week.
It was during the game that Battaglia said he was honored to meet and present an award at halftime to former Army Pfc. Samuel Muldrew, 91, who served during World War II.
After 50 years, Muldrew recently received his Purple Heart after the efforts of a local elected official, Battaglia said.
“Although he is a veteran and hasn’t served in uniform since 1946, he still serves. And he knows that,” the sergeant major said.
Muldrew waved back to the cheering crowd of 50,000 spectators.
“When he communicated with the crowd, that was a moment I’ll never forget,” Battaglia said. “When he started waving back to the thousands of people who were showing their appreciation for him, he understood that the [D-Day] landing that day [when] 9,000 allied members were lost on that beach landing, there was a reminder that freedom is not free, and to see the freedom in the stands probably made it all worth [it to] Mr. Muldrew.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkAFPS)