JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - He began as an 8-year-old kid swinging a tennis racket, later joined the Army, and eventually became an exceptional volleyball player well into his 20s.

Call it Eric Latson's net result.

It's one thing to earn a spot on an All-Army team, but it's quite another to do so in your second sport. Latson - now a 27-year-old sergeant first class and food service specialist with the 593rd Sustainment Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord - managed that in 2009.

"I've only been playing for three years, and I'm starting to learn a lot more about the sport," said Latson of volleyball. "I really enjoy the sport now."

Latson had discovered volleyball while stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. A year ago, he was selected to the All-Army team that finished third behind the Air Force and Marines in the Armed Forces tournament.

"Athletically, I knew I was capable of doing it," Latson said. "Technically, I really wasn't fundamentally ... sound. So I was a little bit nervous going there."

By the time he made the All-Army volleyball team, Latson already was an accomplished tennis player. While in Stuttgart, he won the U.S. Forces Europe men's open singles championship.

"I grew up playing tennis. (I) love tennis," Latson said. "That's my No. 1 sport."

The Miami native joined the Army in July 2001. After three years in Vicenza, Italy, and five more in Stuttgart, he arrived at Fort Lewis in August 2009.

Married with a year-old son, Latson has continued to play both sports as time permits.

"I love both sports," said Latson, pointing out that one is an individual and the other a team sport. "So they actually ... balance me out. I have done both ... many days."

Right now, Latson is consumed by volleyball. The 5-foot-11-inch, 168-pound outside hitter departed this week for the All-Army trial camp at Fort Bragg, N.C., and should go on to the Armed Forces men's championship at Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C., May 5 to 12.

"Last year, I was considered a rookie," Latson recalled. "Now, since I'm one of the (veteran players) coming back again this year, it's going to be a different feel.

"When I went last year, it was all about making the team and not showing my weakness. Now it's about, how can I be a role model' How can I be a leader for personnel who haven't been on the team'"

Army's third-place finish a year ago remains fresh in Latson's mind.

"I'm a competitor," Latson said. "It was actually hard for me to take the loss."

Latson is looking for a better result in 2010.

"This year's going to be totally different," Latson said. "We're actually ready to take gold. Number one is (to) win for the Army. That's what I definitely want to do."

Bob Reinert is assistant editor of the Northwest Guardian, Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper.