CAMP ZAMA, Japan – During baseball’s biggest global tournament, which this year includes teams from 20 nations and is having games played in three countries, 10 Camp Zama Soldiers helped in a critical behind-the-scenes role.
The Soldiers, assigned to U.S. Army Aviation Battalion Japan and U.S. Army Japan, acted as chaperones for players in the World Baseball Classic during the tightly controlled drug-testing process for the round of games played at the Tokyo Dome March 9 through 16.
Capt. Nathan Degen, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, USAABJ, who organized the team of Soldier volunteers, said the opportunity to be part of the WBC came through a chance meeting last year. He was attending a mentorship program in July when he met someone who worked in New York at the headquarters for Major League Baseball, which has hosted the WBC since it began in 2006.
Degen mentioned he was stationed in Japan and said he and other Soldiers there would be eager to volunteer for any MLB activities in Tokyo. The employee connected Degen to the MLB regional office, which lined the Soldiers up with their gig at this year’s tournament.
The Soldiers worked anywhere from one to six games during the week of play at the Tokyo Dome. At each game, the Soldiers were randomly assigned to chaperone a player during their drug testing. Degen explained the procedure, which involved notifying each player of his turn for testing, maintaining observational control as the players were escorted to the testing area, and escorting them back to the clubhouse afterward.
Degen called the volunteering experience incredible, saying it provided him and his team with insight into international, civilian business operations and how they both paralleled and differed from the military.
Getting a firsthand look at the facilities’ management, security and drug-testing coordination also shed light on other ways he and the other Soldiers can effectively and efficiently organize their own company- and battalion-level events, Degen continued.
More importantly, he said, volunteering at the games gave him and his team the chance to experience a large-scale sporting event while still getting a unique work experience that allowed them to build relationships with their host nation and other organizations.
“As a commander, the best part was hearing some of our Soldiers [being] full of gratitude for the opportunity to be part of an international event,” Degen said. "It is very rewarding to provide Soldiers with opportunities they may not otherwise be afforded.”
Degen said that during the event, he also enjoyed working with other Japanese volunteers who taught him about their culture as they got to know each other.
“We were really able to build relationships with many of the volunteers that will carry beyond the tournament,” Degen said.
Staff Sgt. Dwayne W. Parker, assigned to USAABJ, volunteered for two days during the WBC, and said it was a great experience working with the staff, players and coaches. He said he especially enjoyed working with the Japanese volunteers, and the memories he made laughing and talking about each other’s cultures will last well after he leaves Japan.
“Any positive interactions with your host country like this help to strengthen our bond, especially between Japan and the U.S. Army in Japan,” Parker said. “If another opportunity comes along, I would gladly volunteer again.”
One of the missions of U.S. Soldiers in Japan is to build and foster bilateral relationships, Degen said. In order to do that, they have to show an authentic sense of care, interest and dedication to the people around them—and sports and communal events like the WBC are a great way to initiate that, he said.
“I think our Soldiers did a phenomenal job representing USARJ at the event,” Degen said. “I believe my team and I were able to make personal and human connections to help build trust—not only with Japan, but also with all the national teams, players and staff members involved in the WBC.”
The World Baseball Classic is an international professional baseball tournament that has been played every few years since 2006. This year’s WBC had games being played in the United States, Taiwan and Japan, with the championship game between Japan and the United States taking place March 21 in Miami. The games attracted more than 360,000 in-person spectators to the Tokyo Dome, the largest in the tournament’s history.