Nats pitchers team up for USO tour

Nats pitchers team up for USO tour
December 11, 2012, 12:45 pm
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When newlyweds Ross and Keri Detwiler boarded a plane for Hawaii last week, neither could have anticipated a development that would force them to cut their honeymoon short.

Certainly not a development that included a seven-day, four-country tour of military bases alongside the most powerful general in the U.S. Army.

"When I got the phone call, I just said: 'I'm going to drop everything I can and make sure I can go on this,'" Detwiler said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You never know if you're going to be able to do something like this again."

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? A chance for Detwiler and fellow Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen to join Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other celebrities on the USO's annual holiday tour visiting American servicemen and women deployed around the globe.

It didn't matter to Detwiler that he would have to cut his honeymoon short. And how did his new wife feel about that?

"Well, she's still in Hawaii, so she doesn't mind," he said with a laugh. "She was definitely on board to let me do this."

Stammen, likewise, didn't have to think twice about accepting the invitation.

"When I got the call, it was pretty much a no-brainer," the right-hander said. "I had to make sure everybody was on board with it, my family. But it was pretty much a foregone conclusion once I was asked to go."

The group -- which also includes Capitals forward Matt Hendricks, country music singer Kellie Pickler and comedian Iliza Shlesinger -- is set to depart Washington, though none of the civilians knows where they're actually going or how long they'll be there.

That information is classified for security reasons, so everyone has to prepare for the unknown.

"They told us to pack for cold weather and for warm weather," Stammen said. "So my bag is pretty full, because we don't know where we're going. It'll be pretty interesting."

Neither knows what exactly to expect when they arrive at their unannounced location.

"I think it's going to be an eye-opening experience of what they have to go through on a daily basis while they're deployed," Stammen said. "Any thoughts of what we think goes on over there, I think we're going to realize it's not anywhere near what we think is going on. Once we come back, I'm sure we'll have a greater appreciation for what our military does for us."

Both Detwiler and Stammen have loose connections to the military -- both pitchers' grandfathers served in World War II, and a couple of Stammen's former college teammates at Dayton went on to join the Mariners and the Army -- but both have developed an appreciation for the armed forces while playing professionally in Washington and interacting with wounded warriors and military officials.

"I think definitely playing here in Washington plays a huge role in it," said Detwiler, who grew up outside St. Louis. "We're in the middle of the capital here, and you see the high-ranking officials around Washington all the time. We get a lot of opportunities that we normally wouldn't if we weren't in Washington."

Detwiler has already had two opportunities to meet Dempsey (who described himself in October to CSNwashington.com's Chase Hughes as a "rabid Nationals fan"), catching the Chairman's ceremonial first pitch before a June game against the Yankees and again before Game 5 of the NLDS.

"I got to shake his hand and just have a loose conversation with him," Detwiler said. "You just see those guys for their jobs, you don't realize the person behind it until you actually get to sit down and talk to them. That was pretty cool, to be able to talk to one of the most powerful people in the world."

Now both pitchers have a chance to spend a week with Dempsey and travel to distant corners of the globe neither ever dreamed of seeing in person.

"Not at all. You don't really think about the opportunity until it's given to you," Detwiler said. "I think we're just truly blessed to be able to do this. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing that almost nobody gets to do. It's definitely pretty cool, to be able to go over there and thank the troops for what they do and to be able to give something back to them for fighting for our freedoms."

Even if it means leaving your brand-new wife behind in Hawaii to finish your honeymoon alone.