Rob Robichaux practices his swing at Gulfport’s Hoyt Field. Robichaux, who is blind in one eye, plays with VetSports.
Every time Dawn Fiech’s husband gets together with his ball team, she knows he’s getting the sort of help he can’t get anywhere else.
She doesn’t know what her husband’s seen or where, exactly, the Army has sent him, but she knows about the nightmares. She knows he can’t tell her what he’s seen without betraying an oath he made to the government. She knows he hurts, and she knows as much as she loves him, the ways she can help are limited.
But the ball games help more than she ever could.
Over 40 years after the last of the Vietnam soldiers came home, a new group of veterans struggle to deal with their physical and emotional scars. These men and women, starting with those deployed in 1990 and those still fighting today, don’t, Fiech says, feel they can talk freely about what happened.
The military offers counseling services, she says, but many enlisted men fear not being able to serve if they admit to any sort of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
VetSports offers these men and women help and healing without judgment.
“This helps them more than we ever could,” says Jennifer Somers, whose husband Rob plays with the VetSports team.
“The biggest thing [with other programs] is the stigma,” Fiech adds. “Here they have a band of brothers.”
VetSports puts wounded soldiers back on a different sort of field – a playing field. A vet need not have a physical disability to play. They play volleyball, softball, or other sports, but what matters, Gulfport Ward One Councilman Dan Liedtke says, is not so much the specific sport as the camaraderie.
“While they’re so proud of everything they’ve done and the opportunity to serve, it’s a great opportunity for them to get together and talk about some of the things that have caused pain in their lives,” Liedtke says. Liedtke and his wife Michelle are both VetSports activists who brought VetSports to Gulfport.
The next VetSports softball game is a December 6 exhibition at Al Lang Stadium, but most weekends you can find a few team members honing their skills at Hoyt Field.
“This helps them a lot,” Fiech says as her husband and his teammates sweat and talk on the field.
On July 12, VetSports will hold a golf tournament at Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Club in Clearwater. VetSports still needs hole sponsors. Sponsorship costs $50. To sponsor a hole, contact VetSports Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Brian Taylor Urruela at Brian_Taylor@VetSports.org.