An airman’s journey from battlefield to baseball field

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Hussein Enaya
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

Growing up playing baseball, it was a dream for Tech Sgt. Travis J. Hackett to join a professional baseball team.

While he may not be a professional baseball player, the 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron defender continues to play – now with a goal of improving veterans’ lives.

"My first experience playing baseball, I probably honestly couldn't remember because I was so young," he said. "But as I grew older, it became unlike anything I can describe. It's kind of like when we put on our Air Force uniforms every morning, we're representing the DoD and the Air Force. Walking onto the baseball field in my uniform, I know I get to play a sport I truly love and have a passion for."

Hackett reminisced about the earliest Boston Red Sox game experience at the age of around 8 or 9. The atmosphere and excitement of that Red Sox game became a cherished memory, shaping Hackett's affinity for the sport from a young age.

It was a passion that never waned, even when he joined the military. Baseball became a piece of home he carried with him through deployments and duty stations.

"I missed the sport a lot," Hackett said. "So, wherever I was stationed, I looked for local leagues to play in during my free time."

The military life might have interrupted his baseball dreams, but it couldn't extinguish the fire. Baseball became his connection to home as he deployed and served at various duty stations.

Hackett sought out local baseball leagues, playing whenever he could, and it was during one of these assignments that he discovered the WarDogs Baseball Organization.

"I found the WarDogs through social media when I got stationed here," Hackett said. “Joining this unique team required more than just a love for the sport. You have to send all your stats because this organization plays in collegiate leagues, playing against college-level players."

The WarDogs chooses the best baseball players from the United States Armed Forces annually. These exceptional individuals come together during spring training and embark on a nationwide tour.

"We raise money through raffle tickets, fundraisers, charitable events, and then we try to purchase a service animal for a veteran,” said Hackett. “We give that service animal to a veteran at a baseball game."

As part of the WarDogs, Hackett and his teammates embarked on a challenging season comprising 17 games, with the goal of raising $10,000. Their last game was close, with $8,000 raised. Then, a surprise donation of $10,000 in Nebraska pushed them past their target.

The conversations held prior to each game seemed to bring the families even closer to their departed loved ones, creating a poignant and touching connection.

Being part of the flag folding ceremony for each game was a deeply moving experience, according to Hackett. In this role, Hackett had the privilege of presenting a flag to a Gold Star family -- those who have lost a service member in war.

U.S Air Force Master Sgt. Robert A. Vickers, 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron operations superintendent and a colleague of Hackett, believes that Hackett stands out as an exceptional non-commissioned officer. His consistent drive at work serves as a source of motivation for those in his vicinity.

"Hackett needs little support, but he trained hard to become a part of this team," Vickers said. “I would imagine he is a great baseball player, since he was able to make a DoD level team."

He envisions Hackett's contagious enthusiasm extending onto the field, where he inspires teammates to deliver their utmost effort.

Beyond the games and the fundraising, Hackett and his team visited VA hospitals, spending time with veterans and sharing stories. "We would sit down and talk to them, take pictures, and just bring a day of kindness," said Hackett.

the WarDogs mission isn't just about the money they raise, Hackett believes.
"Those service animals are going to provide a great deal of emotional support and medical support for those veterans in need," he said.

For Hackett, it’s important to give back to the community and show support to veterans.

"It's given me a more open-minded approach when it comes to our veterans,” thinks Hackett. “Those guys paved the way for you and me and giving them gratitude and support where it's needed is essential."

Hackett plans to continue playing in the local league of Okaloosa County, Florida, and travel with the WarDogs for their upcoming season that will take them to the New England region.

Hackett would love to see more Airmen join the WarDogs.

"Anyone who wants to join the baseball team can definitely contact me at any time,” said Hackett “It's about more than just the game; it's about making a difference."