From West Point to the Minor Leagues to Iraq
That was then [2005, Billings, Montana, playing with a Cincinatti Reds affiliate]:
This is now [2011, serving on his second deployment to Iraq]:
Operation Yellow Elephant salutes not only those Service Secretaries who in 2008 decided that Academy graduates would honor their service obligations, instead of being allowed to play professional sports, but also those alumni who are fulfulling their obligations.
Former Reds Prospected Serves with U.S. Army in Iraq
“I made a promise to them, and of course I was going to honor it,” [Army Captain Josh] Holden, now 30, said in an interview here at a United States military base in southern Iraq.
Holden graduated from West Point in 2003 and had a five-year commitment to active duty. But in 2005, that career was put aside and one in professional baseball began.
After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, there was a need to increase recruiting. So the Defense Department created a program, called the alternative service option, that allowed soldiers who had the skills to become public figures, like athletes, to pursue more high-profile careers. The military hoped these soldiers would generate positive attention and increase recruiting. [OYE Note: Service Secretaries ended the program in 2008.]
For Holden, his path to minor league baseball started with the tryout with the Reds. The team liked what it saw, and the military gave him permission to leave his base in Fort Sill, Okla., for minor league baseball in Florida. He agreed to return to fulfill his service after his baseball ended. [ . . . ]
Holden played four years in the minors while spending his off-seasons working as a military recruiter and visiting injured soldiers. [ . . . ]
Just nine months after his baseball career ended [on the final day of spring training in 2008], he was on his way to the tortured northern Iraqi city of Mosul to fulfill the remaining four years he owed the military.
While in Mosul, he spent his days directing troops and tanks. Ten troops from his brigade died on that tour.
After a year in Iraq, he returned home to Texas, married, bought a house, got a dog, and was then redeployed here in southern Iraq.
Holden now spends his days eating meals on the floors of tents with local sheiks in a last-ditch effort by American military officials to try to win over locals as the military’s withdrawal is scheduled to hit its peak in coming months.
“I basically keep track of all the key players in the area, the sheiks, the Iraqi security forces and government officials,” he said. “We are in an advise-and-assist mission, and we are getting ready for the operation of getting all of the military’s equipment out of Iraq and into Kuwait. We cannot do that safely without the help of the Iraqis.” [ . . . ]
“Personally, it couldn’t have worked out better for me,” Holden said. “I got to chase a dream, and now that I’m a soldier, I hope that I am giving the Army as much as it has given me.”