July 2010

A Lone Survivor celebrated at Minute Maid Park. And Bourns an All-Star.

Minute Maid Park was anything but dark after the Astros left for their recent 10-game jaunt from Arlington to Milwaukee to San Diego. While they’ve hosted some pretty monumental events at their downtown facility, the June 26 bash may just take the cake.

Retired Navy SEAL and best-selling author Marcus Luttrell, a Houston native and a personal friend to general manager Ed Wade, has begun the next phase of his life by helping returning combat veterans who have seen and been through the worst of the worst and survived to talk about it. Luttrell, with the help of the Astros, launched The Lone Survivor Foundation with a star-studded bash at Minute Maid that will certainly bring welcome attention to the grass-roots campaign.

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Some background information on Luttrell: Five years ago, he and his fellow Navy SEALs were sent on a mission in the mountains of Afghanistan to capture or kill a Taliban leader. The mission, known as Operation Redwing, tragically concluded after the SEALs were betrayed by some Afghan villagers after the SEALs spared their lives.

Luttrell, though badly wounded, managed to escape a Taliban onslaught and was eventually protected and saved by an Afghan village elder. He was the lone survivor of Operation Redwing.

Luttrell, author of the best-selling memoir “Lone Survivor,” has in the works plans for an all-encompassing ranch retreat that will create a safe haven for warriors and their families to relax, rehabilitate and recover. While waiting for the ranch blueprint to come to fruition, the foundation will offer unique off-site rehabilitation opportunities and will provide funding for rehabilitation and recovery programs for Patriots at other locations.

After the ranch opens the foundation will continue to fund unique requirements on a case by case basis.  Examples include attending athletic performance centers, pain management programs, obtaining invitro-fertilization for those who have lost their ability to naturally reproduce due to combat wounds, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, purchasing adaptive athletic equipment such as adaptive bikes, guns and skis.

The sold-out event at Minute Maid Park drew plenty of celebrities, but even more significantly, the families of the warriors were also in attendance, as were the helicopter pilots and crew that eventually rescued Luttrell.

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What’s more, the United States Air Force authorized those pilots and crew to fly the same helicopter used in the rescue and land it in the parking lot across the street from Minute Maid Park. Luttrell had not seen the people who saved him since he was flown to the hospital following the rescue.

Among the headliners: actor Jim Caviezel, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Peterson, the helicopter pilot that rescued Luttrell, Texas First Lady Anita Perry, actor/director Peter Berg, who is directing the “Lone Survivor” movie, General Leroy Sisco and Fox News commentator Glenn Beck (below).

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The event was hosted by the Boot Girls, a group of five Texas women who are initiating the unique “Boot Campaign” designed to raise funds for organizations such as the Lone Survivor Foundation. The Boot Campaign is a project that invites Americans to buy a pair of Military boots — to take a step in “their shoes” — and the donations go to the Lone Survivor Campaign and other Military groups.

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Congratulations to Michael Bourn, who had a dazed but happy look on his face as his teammates offered their kudos Sunday morning upon hearing that the Gold Glove center fielder had been named to the 2010 National League All-Star team. Most of us figured Roy Oswalt would be the lone Astros representative despite having 10 losses to his record, but NL manager Charlie Manuel gave the nod to Bourn, whose speed on the basepaths and stellar defense earned him a coveted spot on the roster.

The selection show on TBS started at 9 a.m. Pacific Time, so Wade had to call Bourn pretty early Sunday morning to give him the good news.

A groggy Bourn saw Wade’s number on his cell phone around 8 and thought, “I hope this isn’t something bad.” Bourn figured it was one of two things: either he was traded, or he was an All-Star. He was thrilled when it turned out to be the latter.

This is Bourn’s first All-Star game, which is always special. My favorite part of the All-Star festivities is the pregame introductions, where players get individual face time as they’re announced to the crowd. It’s always a prideful time for the fans of those particular players, and I’m looking forward to Bourn giving a tip of the cap to the camera when his name is announced. Now let’s just hope Manuel plays him.

Astros take a field trip, visit Navy SEALs.

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The Astros have always been active supporters of the United States military and make dozens of attempts every year not to just honor the troops, but to interact with them as well.

They visit military bases as part of their winter caravans, they host wounded and/or returning veterans every Sunday in their “Home Sweet Home” promotion and they host many meet-and-greets in a private setting before weekend games at Minute Maid Park.

On Friday, general manager Ed Wade arranged for the traveling party to go on a tour of the Navy SEAL operation at the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego. Several hundred sailors are going through a rigorous BUD/S training (BUD/S stands for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) to become Navy SEALS, and suffice it to say, hearing what these men have to go through over the six-month process was quite the eye-opening experience. The number of men who begin the training process ranges from 600 to 800, and only one-third will complete the process. It was described to us during our visit several times as “six months of hell.”

In fact, retired Navy SEAL John Mctighe said, if the men can get through week four — Hell Week — then the finish line is definitely within reach. But to get through Hell Week, they must get through six days with only four hours of sleep. Not per night — total. The week starts on a Sunday at 9 p.m. and ends Friday around noon. They are allowed two hours of sleep on Wednesday and two on Thursday. The rest of the time, they’re up and running drills, and they’re doing so in the coldest, wettest, most miserable conditions imaginable, all the while subject to the calculated harrassment by their advisers.

“It’s an indicator of what kind of men will come out in the end,” Mctighe said. “They say you’ll never go through anything harder than Hell Week. That is absolutely false. Hell Week is in a controlled environment. We’re not going to kill you in training. We’re not going to do what the enemy’s going to do to you. We can make training tough to a point, but we can’t replicate what they’re going to go through in Iran or Afghanistan.”

Let’s just say that this definitely keeps things in proper perspective. I hate using that cliche but in this case, it  might be the only accurate way to truly paint the picture. I overheard one SEAL hopeful say to one of the Astros players, “Thanks for all you do for us.” I had to chuckle. I mean, I know everyone loves baseball, but come on. Really?

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This isn’t your garden variety obstacle course:

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Lindstrom, Myers take in the scene

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Myers, Jeff Fulchino, Brad Mills, Jason Castro

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The weapon part of the tour was by far the most popular with your Astros, seeing it was a hands-on experience.

Castro.

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Fulchino.

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Sean Berry and Brad Mills, That’s Byrdak on the left.

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