Detroit Tigers give AF recruiter special honor as milestone of service

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Andy Stephens
  • Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs
It was Game Four of the American League Championship Series and the Detroit Tigers were facing the New York Yankees at home. Slowly, shyly, the Airman walked out to the pitcher's mound. In the stands, her family had flown in from Kansas to witness their loved one deliver the game ball that would start the game. On the loudspeaker, the announcer listed her awards and decorations, sending chills across her body. The crowd cheered louder in greater approval with her every step closer to the mound, the grenade attack that had ravaged her body during her 2007 deployment to Iraq fading away in the moment. She was proving that her body was restored to strength and that her hope and faith in the Air Force she loved was deserved, her service dress marking her as one of America's flying legion.

The road back to uniformed service was not easy for Senior Airman Jannette G. Meireles, Air Force recruiter for West branch, Mich. She had enlisted in the Air Force in December 2005 as Security Forces and served at bases in Florida, Kansas and Korea. But her 2007 deployment and the grenade attack by insurgents were followed by several long seasons of therapy and pain that spurred her to leave the Air Force so Meireles could focus on her recovery. Mission accomplished. But how could a 26-year-old prior service Airman return to the Air Force after such a lengthy absence? 

"The Air Force Recruiting Service is one of only a few paths by which a prior service servicemember can return to active duty; there are only 250 applicants each year accepted through prior service accessions," said Senior Master Sgt. Wade Trahan, Superintendent, AFRS Enlisted Accessions Branch. "Meireles was a recipient of both a Purple Heart and Combat Action Badge, who chose to undergo the lengthy and challenging process of returning to active duty. The Air Force Recruiting Service saw her as a fantastic role model to inspire future recruits. The Detroit Tigers have a program where the game ball is delivered to the pitching mound before every game and they asked the 339th Recruiting Squadron if they knew of anyone we would like to deliver the game ball."

The 339th Recruiting Squadron (RCS), which covers Michigan, parts of Ohio and Indiana and recruited more than 1,100 young people of skill and talent last year, had welcomed Meireles in July 2012 and, according to Lt. Col. Chad A. Rauls, the 339th RCS commander, she had endeared herself to applicants for service with her enthusiasm and sensitivity. Rauls stated that he sees a great future for Meireles in the Air Force and felt that there would be no better showcase for a determined Airman of proven resolve than a championship series baseball game. 

"It didn't really sink in until I arrived at the stadium," Meireles said. "The Detroit Tigers gave the Air Force such a special honor and I was proud to represent my service. In high school, I loved to play softball and enjoyed being in the game, so that night was truly unforgettable."

Meireles described how, as a catcher in a high school league, she took a serious blow to her face. It hurt a lot, she said, but it didn't stop her from playing again. That pick-yourself-up attitude has carried her far in life, refusing to accept defeat when faced with challenges. Becoming Security Forces before turning 20. Operating outside the wire in a contested no man's land. Feeling your bones break from the sudden concussion of an insurgent's grenade. Recovery. Fighting incredible odds to return to service. That night, Meireles had one more challenge to face - standing before a crowd of 42,477 as a representative of America's veterans who can hold their head higher than any who've never served their nation. 

But the Detroit Tigers, who sponsored this recognition program for the heroes in their community, also came away winners that night; they beat the New York Yankees 8-1 for a four-game sweep of the American League Championship Series. The Tigers went into their best-of-seven playoff for the World Series against the San Francisco Giants, representing the National League.

"Being at that game restoked that fire I feel for baseball," Meireles said. "Being in the stands, cheering for your home team, sharing that moment of victory with everyone else there is awesome. I talk about it to all my applicants. Michigan has some of the best baseball fans in the country, so that game helped me have more in common with them. Baseball - and sports, in general - is one of the best bridges for reaching out to communities because everyone can imagine that moment when your team wins. That night, we all felt like winners."