JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - As her high school softball team's three-time defensive player of the year, Stephanie Hoard no doubt robbed plenty of hits from opposing batters.

One would expect no less from someone who hails from a place called Thief River Falls, Minn. The real crime, however, would have been leaving her off the list of invitees to the All-Army women's softball trial camp, which runs Aug. 25 to Sept. 17 at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.

Fortunately, that didn't happen. Hoard, a sergeant with the 542nd Support Maintenance Company at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, will vie for a spot on the All-Army women's softball team, which will take part in the 2010 Armed Forces tournament Sept. 18 to 24 at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.

"To be able to play softball, to be able to do what I love," said Hoard, "to represent the United States and the Army at the same time, really, you couldn't ask for more."

Ironically, softball might be her second-best sport. In her earlier days, the 5-foot-4-inch Hoard was a Division 1 ice hockey player at Bemidji (Minn.) State University. She played there as a freshman during the 2003-04 season but then transferred to Northland Community and Technical College in her hometown to focus on her studies and softball.

"I kind of had to sit down and put my priorities in perspective," Hoard said. "Women's hockey wasn't going to get me as far as an education would. It was a hard decision, but I think it was the right one."

That's also the way she views her decision to join the Army in 2007.

"I missed being a part of a team, and I figured (what's) more of a team than the United States Army'" Hoard said. "I've loved it ever since."

Hoard arrived at JBLM in April after serving two years in Schweinfurt, Germany, and making a deployment to Iraq with the 172nd Support Battalion.

"The chain of command is awesome," said Hoard of the 542nd leaders, who obviously think highly of her, as well.

"Sergeant Hoard is a very hard worker, a true leader and team member, and lives the Army Values at all times," said Capt. Randy Jeter, the 542nd commander. "So far, she has been a great asset to the (Ground Support Equipment) platoon in the 542nd Support Maintenance Company and continues to lead the way as one of the outstanding NCOs in the company."

So when Hoard was invited to the All-Army trial camp, she was allowed to accept.

"I just got here," Hoard said. "For them to actually let me go and ... pursue this is awesome.

"I'm looking forward to it. You know, I'm such a competitive person that I always need a challenge. I always need something to keep pushing myself, so this was the next thing."

Hoard, who played second base in high school, said she has always taken great pride in her defense.

"I love it," Hoard said. "I love diving for balls. I love making those hard plays."

And when she wasn't taking hits away on defense, she was making contact at the top of the batting order, getting aboard and stealing bases on offense.

"I love to steal," Hoard said. "I love it, because you always catch them off guard."

The Army surprised Hoard with the invitation to softball camp.

"I've kind of been away from the game a little bit," said the 25-year-old Hoard. "It's going to be a lot more challenging than it has (been) in the past, but I'm looking forward to it."

If Hoard makes the All-Army team, she and her teammates will compete in the Armed Forces tournament. The All-Armed Forces team will move on to the national championships Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.

"I didn't think that this would really ever happen," Hoard said. "I guess when I applied it was just kind of on a whim.

"I'm excited. I'm very excited to see different parts of the country I haven't seen, play some ball for a few months and, hopefully, make some good friends and get a good experience out of it."

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