PITTSBURGH -- They milled about under the right-field tunnel of PNC Park, some of the 83 Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans seeing each other for the first time in years.
They returned from all over -- New York, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Florida -- to nearby the Pittsburgh base from where they had been deployed, and to an environment that reflected the lifestyle for which they had fought: A baseball game.
Assisting the reunion of the veterans, the majority of them Marines from K Company, 3rd Battalion, highlights the Pirates' annual Heritage Weekend activities.
"This is one of the most important things we can do," said club chairman Bob Nutting, as the veterans lined up alongside him on the right-field warning track to receive the crowd's loud salute, "to recognize the service of the all Armed Forces, but particularly the men who have given so much and come back, wounded for us.
"Just a little opportunity to show our appreciation to them and to their families, for sacrificing. We're also giving them a chance to interact with each other in a positive environment."
"Some of us haven't seen each other for seven years," said Nate Huffman. "Staff Sergeant [Oscar] Aguilera organized it, since we've never had a reunion."
Sgt. Aguilera got cracking on the reunion about eight months ago, and when he reached out to the national support-group Wounded Warriors Project, he had no problem identifying where his guys wanted to meet.
"We wanted to come to a ballgame," Aguilera said. "I'm a big baseball fan, and most of these guys originally are from the Ohio Valley."
Bob Laverick, the Fayetteville, N.C.-based Regional Director of Wounded Warriors, took the ball from there.
"We found out they'd had a really hard time over in Iraq," Laverick said, "and offered our support to give them an opportunity to come together."
"We're proud to be able to bring in a lot of the family members with them," Nutting said, "so they all get to spend a little bit of time together."