By Susanne Kappler, Fort Jackson LeaderJuly 14, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Army News Service, July 14, 2011) -- Soldiers with the Fort Jackson Warrior Transition Unit welcomed a back-to-back College World Series champion at their town hall meeting July 11, 2011. Ray Tanner, head coach of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks baseball team, spent almost two hours with the Soldiers answering questions, signing autographs and posing for photos.
“I always talk to groups about adversity and realism and perspective and those kinds of things. (But) you guys know far more about that than I do,” Tanner told the Soldiers.
Before answering questions about the Gamecocks championship run and other topics, Tanner shared stories with the Soldiers to explain his approach to coaching and life in general.
He recalled an event during the 1993 Pan American Games in Nicaragua that he said changed his outlook on baseball and life. Tanner, who was a coach for Team USA then, said that during the semifinals the team got caught up in the political unrest that besieged the country during that time.
“It was the only time in my life that I was pretty happy about losing a baseball game,” he said. “(The fans) started yelling stuff at us, and there were guys on the dugout with machine guns.”
The team was escorted to the hotel and kept sequestered there before being able to leave the country.
“That gave me an opportunity to grasp a little bit about perspective. There were some questions there for a few hours on how this thing was going to go down, if we were safe or not, if we had enough protection and those kinds of things,” Tanner said. “I sort of made a pact at that time that every day is a good day. And every day when I wake up, it’s going to be a beautiful day. There are going to be some choices to make, and I’m going to make some good ones.”
He also told the Soldiers how his upbringing shaped him as a person.
“I grew up in a very modest family situation. My dad was an alcoholic,” Tanner said. “We were middle class to poor, probably closer to poor than anything else. My dad had a sixth grade education. My mom didn’t graduate from high school either.”
“I sort of grew up in the real world. I felt like that experience was better than what a lot of my friends had at the end of the day,” he said. “I had a little bit more maturity and understanding and discipline than maybe some of my counterparts.”
Staff Sgt. Brian Talkington, a WTU squad leader, said that even though he is not a big baseball fan, he thought Tanner’s words were very motivational.
“I think it’s great he takes the time. I’m sure he’s a very busy man after (winning) two (championships) in a row,” Talkington said. “I got a lot out of his speech. (His upbringing) makes you think anybody can do something.”
Sgt. Addison Brown, a WTU Soldier who was involved in organizing the event, said that, as a Soldier, he could relate to Tanner’s attitude.
“It’s never about him. It’s never about what he’s accomplished. It’s the bigger picture,” Brown said. “You can relate to that more as a Soldier, because when you go on a mission, it’s not about you.”
Brown said that he knows from experience that visits like Tanner’s can have a positive effect on Soldiers.
“When I was wounded (in 2007) we had different people coming to our unit. I didn’t know them (all), but just to have someone who is a celebrity in the community or outside the community come and boost the morale. that’s what it’s all about,” Brown said.
Col. John Nerges, Moncrief Army Community Hospital’s deputy commander for nursing, shared a similar sentiment.
“These (Soldiers) today will remember the day they got to meet Coach Tanner, and it’ll mean so much to them,” Nerges said. “You can’t buy it with money. This is an irreplaceable experience. (What) it does for morale in these Soldiers, you can’t measure it.”
Nerges said he was surprised about how similar Tanner’s approach to leading his team is to leadership in the Army.
“He talked about developing people, trust, commitment to the organization. He talked about the Army values in a different language. He called them different things, but they were the same as our values.”
Tanner said after the event that he appreciates the opportunity to spend time with Soldiers.
“I’m honored and humbled to be in any Soldier’s presence,” he said. “I know that in the world we live in there’s a lot of admiration and excitement and enthusiasm for sports. But, people in my arena admire men and women who serve our country. They’re really the heroes and the superstars to us.”