Fort Bragg:  Fourth Time a Charm

Fayetteville, North Carolina

 June 8, 2017

As civilians, so much of what goes on in the military is completely lost to us.  It’s not until you spend time with the families whose loved ones are deployed, do you get an understanding of what they go through, so we civilians can live the lives we do.

After the Registration Crew got the first clinic out on the courts, I got to spend some time sitting with some military families.  There were two military wives, an adult child of a Vietnam veteran who was now serving and a civilian employee.  They were all just talking and sharing stories, I was just a listener.  One of the wives described what it was like returning home from work while her husband was deployed in Afghanistan.  She said she would drive down her street and hope and pray that there were no cars in her driveway or officers sitting on her front porch, waiting for her.  She talked about a book she read by a war widow and how the widow made it through her days after her husband died in combat.  It was gut wrenching. 

The civilian employee told the story about how she covered a paratrooper fire on base that killed nine soldiers and wounded dozens more.  She was working in the base’s press office and was one of the first people on the scene.  She heard the screams, saw the bodies and body parts  and then had to report on it.  She told us that those who survived ordered their nurses and doctors to wheel them out to the service on gurneys and in wheel chairs to pay their respects to their fallen friends.  Again, it was gut wrenching. 

The other military wife told us that her 12 year old son was struggling in school ever since his dad deployed.  She feared that it would effect her other three children and herself as well.   

Except for families of police officers or firefighters, as civilians, we have no idea what that’s like.  We here at Boots on the Court have no illusions that what we do is making a huge difference in the lives of these people, but we feel that it is truly an honor to be able to bring a little bit of a distraction to them in the course of their lives.  

Fort Bragg was the very first base that Boots on the Court visited.  Bragg was a “test balloon,” so to speak.  At that time, July of 2013, we had no idea if this idea would float.  We arrived in Fayetteville to monsoon-like rains, and had to host 100 participants in the Ritz-Epps Fitness Center.  Instead of the event being a total wash-out, it was a huge success.  Now, four years later, we found ourselves at the Hercules Fitness Center Tennis Courts, abutting the Pope Airfield.  We were entertained throughout the morning by the enormous aircraft that took off.  How often do you get to see a C-130 take off, so close by that you can practically read the lettering on its sides?

As is typical of most BOTC events, this one was marked by the huge turnout of the “little ones.”  Between the kids clinic and the juniors, we saw about 45 participants.  Some already come with racquets and hats, others borrow some and wear the headbands/wristbands so generously donated by New Balance and Babolat.   

After a closely contested relay race, we prepared for the adults.  A group of about 30 took to the courts, and gave the expression “Weekend Warriors” a whole new meaning!  It was so rewarding to see some faithful returnees, as there were alumni from all three years!  As Kimberly Gillespie said, after she took our very first clinic, she became a tennis junkie, even purchasing a ball machine for when her husband Tom was deployed.  Now that’s dedication! 

No Fort Bragg event would be complete without mentioning the AMAZING Jackie Thomas.  When Jackie says we are like family, she is not kidding.  One of the big reasons we return to Bragg and will continue to find ways to do so, is because of her.  Thank you Jackie for all that you do.  You are a dedicated and caring individual, and we love you like family, because you are. 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our incredible volunteers, without whom we could never do these events.  The Registration table ran like a well-oiled machine thanks to Amy Day.  Every time I approached the table with a question or a “helpful” suggestion as to what should be happening next, I would get this response from Amy, even before my question was asked, “Got it Liz!  Already done.”  Wow.  Just wow!  

The Charlotte Mafia was a skeleton crew compared to what it’s usually like, but Gordon and Tica Lowman and Jeff Cato were tirelessly on top of everything and we can’t thank them enough.  While Mark Wirth was not in attendance (family celebration), we missed him and spared no opportunity to talk (lovingly) about him.  We send our sincere good wishes to JoAnne Russell, another BOTC regular who had to stay home to nurse an injury.  Get better in time for Mayport, Jo!  Who knew that Tica was a junior pro?

So here is the long list of THANK YOU’S: 

Jackie Thomas, Amy Day, Kimberly and Tom Gillespie, Tica and Gordon Lowman, Jeff Cato, Gwen Fleming, Randy Bridgman, Mary Holland Hoveland, Kim Hoveland, Roger Bober, A.J. Guimont, Anthony Guimont, Anjelica Cordova, Richard Howell, James Hunt, Mitsue Hunt, Elaine Yamato, Michael Monk and Dr. Harvey Jenkins.  A special shout out to Anthony Guimont who helped us hang banners and do other set-up-related stuff before the event got started.  Anthony had actually graduated from Ranger School the night before our event and then was off to Germany the night of our event.  These are the types of individuals we have in our military today.  Good luck, Anthony!! 

As we approach our 6th year of doing this, we are now faced with the very real possibility of shutting down our operations, at least for the near future.  While this would break our hearts, we just cannot continue to maintain this operation without the necessary funding.  So, we will be focusing all our efforts on fundraising and trying to get what we feel is vital corporate sponsorship.  We welcome any and all ideas from all of you. 

Our next event will be another first for BOTC.  We are scheduled to host clinics on the deck of an amphibious attack warship (a helicopter carrier), the USS Iwo Jima, at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida on August 26, 2017.  Please stay tuned for exciting details as we get closer to the date!

Thank you all!