U.S. Air Force cadets in Kinston to play U.S. Navy midshipmen in the Freedom Classic at Grainger Stadium this weekend took time Friday to visit some veterans. 

The Fourteen cadets, that consisted of about half seniors and half sophomores took a tour of the North Carolina State Veterans Home and stopped in a few of the rooms to visit with veterans. 

C.J. Gillman, assistant baseball coach for Air Force, said he and all the players enjoy visiting the veterans and listening to the their stories while trying to bring a little energy with them. 

“One of the things we talk about with our guys is being a part of something that is bigger than yourself,” Gillman said. “That’s why they chose to come to the Air Force Academy.” 

Gillman said he thought opportunities like visiting a veterans home was great because people in general have a tendency to worry about themselves all the time. But it is good to step back and get some perspective and help others, he said. 

“In a veterans home like this, there are people with some great stories and we want to hear those stories,” he said. 

The cadets listened to the veterans as they spoke of some of their experiences in the military, and answered their questions about the Freedom Classic.

 

The entire team is excited to participate in the Freedom Classic, Gillman said as he walked down the hall.

“Basically the whole town puts it on,” he said. “Between this (touring the veterans home) and children’s hospital (in Greenville) and the banquet, you can feel the entire community, everybody is kind of pitching in a little bit to put this whole thing on so our men like it every single year.”

Tyler Mortenson, a senior at the Air Force Academy and scheduled to be the starting pitcher in Friday night’s Freedom Classic series, said he played here two years ago and thinks it’s a great venue. 

“It’s really good, especially to get a small-town community together,” Mortenson said. “This is one of the better atmospheres that both of these teams will play the whole year. Just getting to play against another service academy just kind of ups the competition a little bit and brings out the best in all of us.” 

It also brings out the best in the community, Mortenson said. 

“We see the community coming together with Lovick’s Cafe and all the other food caterers that we have, giving us food, the way they prep the locker rooms for us where they have our name plates up. You really don’t get that anywhere else.”

Mortenson, whose hometown is The Woodlands, Texas just north of Houston, said it was good also to interact with different generations of servicemen from across all the branches while touring the veterans home. 

“It is invaluable, bridging the gap between our generations and their generation and just getting to swap experiences, he said. “It’s invaluable to us and it brings back memories for them.” 

While the cadets were touring the veterans home, their head coach and the head coach of the naval academy were attending a luncheon to talk about their baseball programs. 

Josh Bass, spokesman for the Freedom Classic said the Navy midshipmen had to change their plans from going to the Children’s Hospital in Greenville.

“A couple of the players were sick so they didn’t want to risk getting any of the children sick,” Bass said. “But they still wanted to do something for Kinston so they went to Mary’s Soup Kitchen.”