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Wounded warriors hang with Pirates, visit film set

By Army Warrant Officer Ubon Mendie, guest writer | | August 22, 2011

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Wounded Warriors from the Fort Belvior Community Hospital and Marines from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda got a break from the rigors of rehabilitation to enjoy America’s favorite pastime at a Pittsburgh Pirates game at PNC Ballpark, Aug. 17.

The troops not only took in the game, they met Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, got a tour of the city and visited the movie set of the new Batman movie The Dark Night Rises.

"This isn't what I expected," said Army Sgt. Jonathan Duralde. The reception of all the people of Pittsburgh was astounding; their warm welcome and great hospitality was really heartfelt and greatly appreciated."

“Being from Cleveland I wasn’t expecting much in Pittsburgh, but after I got there I was pretty impressed, said Marine Cpl. Cory Szucs. “The town was unique and very well kept. The high mountain views were awesome."

Two volunteer pilots airlifted the 8-man joint service team to Allegany County Airport, where they were greeted by Soldiers of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's 128th Brigade Support Battalion and Allegheny County Sheriff deputies.

The servicemen were taken to their rooms at the Westin Hotel in the heart of the city, and then following lunch, it was on to the PNC Ballpark to watch the Pirates vs. the St. Louis Cardinals.

Robert Nutting, owner and chairman of the Pirates, opened his personal sky box suite to the veterans, where they were free to roam between a luxury outdoor seating area and an indoor lounge.

"I can't thank you all enough for all you do; your sacrifices are not unnoticed and though you can never be repaid, our team is here to give back anyway we can -- all we ask in return is a win," Nuting said.

Nutting then introduced starting pitcher Charlie Morton and various other players who one-by-one introduced themselves to all, shaking hands and signing baseballs.

“I have a new found respect for the Pirates,” said Lance Cpl. Jacob Stearns. “They made sure we had a great time. They have a new biggest fan.”

The following day Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hosted the troops at his office, giving his time to answer various questions and giving words of inspiration. Next was a taste of Hollywood, visiting the set of the new Batman film The Dark Night Rises.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of the leading actors in the film, paused his scene to take pictures and explain his role. Following pictures, service members were given a special sneak peak of the vehicles used in the film.

“It was awesome having the experience to be up close to film production,” said Marine Sgt. Gabriel Ledesma. “It’s an opportunity most people will never have, and probably something I will never see again. I know it lifted the spirits of the guys and now we have some bragging rights when we get home."

To close out the trip, Army Staff Sgt. Billy Moore joined pilot Joe Howley in the cockpit where he was given flight instruction while piloting his brothers-in-arms back to their respective stations.

"It was my best taxi and liftoff yet" said Moore. "I've flown a few times and I’m very familiar with planes from my past work in industry. I thank Capt. Howley and the Patient Airlift Services team for all they did for us. The opportunity to fly a new Pilatus under such an experienced pilot doesn't happen every day; this definitely won't be something I ever forget.”

“For a newbie the ride was pretty smooth,” joked Marine Lance Cpl. Kevin Hoffman. It sure beats a C-130.”


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