Army officers in Iraq study Cox's leadership, cheer Braves

Two Army officers born the year Bobby Cox returned to the Braves as general managerfollow his leadership style and final season 7,000 miles away in Iraq.

Capt. Chris Allen from Lawrenceville and 1st Lt. John P. Walsh of Woodstock, both 25 and born during the 1985 baseball season, help lead a unit that provides security for Camp Ramadi in Anbar Province.

On Sept. 1, when the Braves beat the Mets 4-1, President Barack Obama announced the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The news signaled a postseason of sorts for Allen and Walsh’s unit.

“It is a unique time to serve now, because we are here to finish the job and ensure that the transition of control from American to Iraqi Forces is cohesive and sound,” Allen, a graduate of Collins Hill and the University of Georgia, wrote in a recent e-mail.

As Braves fans, they lionize Cox. As Army officers early in their careers, they draw upon his example as he finishes his job and his team prepares for a transition of control.

“One of Bobby's greatest traits as a leader is the calm he brings in the dugout,” Walsh, a graduate of Blessed Trinity and West Point, wrote in an e-mail. “You have to believe there is nothing he hasn't seen. Having that kind of knowledge of the game has got to be reassuring for all the guys on the team.

“Also, he sticks up for his players like no other manager I've seen. When there's a questionable call at the plate or anywhere on the field, instead of letting the player get into it with the official, Bobby is usually already jogging over to give the official an earful. I definitely try and do the same for my guys and fight for them so they don't have to.”

Allen, a battery executive officer on his second deployment to Iraq, compared Cox to military leaders.

“As a leader in the Army, you must remember the warrior ethos, which says, ‘I will always place the mission first,’ and, ‘I will never quit,’ ” he wrote.

“Cox has proven that ... he will not quit, because despite seasons of difficulty, he has given his all and has shown loyalty to the team and to the city of Atlanta over the years.  And finally, the true mark of a leader is respect; Cox has earned the respect of his team and this city, and his send-off at Turner Field on October 2 could not have been more poignant.”

Keeping up with the team has been, like the Braves' season itself, full of ups and downs. Allen and Walsh watched the season opener against the Cubs from the comfort of home at Fort Stewart, near Savannah.

During the team’s rocky April, their unit was isolated from the media as it trained at Fort Irwin in California. Allen and Walsh had to rely on superior officers for scores and standings.

Upon return in May, some of the unit's soldiers attended a Braves-Diamondbacks game at Turner Field.

“When we deployed in early July, the Braves were on fire and it was definitely tough knowing that we wouldn't be able to watch as many games as we had been,” wrote Walsh, a platoon leader on his first deployment.

A 7:30 p.m. game in Atlanta starts at 2:30 a.m. in Ramadi. They checked scores via computer at the camp’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center.

“It is definitely worth the walk through the dust and mud to catch a game,” Allen wrote. “The Army is a subculture with a heavy emphasis in sports, so you can easily hear updates on your favorite teams through word of mouth. Baseball or football becomes a regular conversation piece at every meal.”

Another source was At Bat 2010, an app on Walsh’s IPod, and the Armed Forces Network broadcasts playoff games.

“I will most likely stay up and watch the [playoffs] on AFN around 4 AM and just drink some extra coffee the next day to make up for it,” Allen wrote.

“For us, it has been an intense and hectic seven months between April and October. ... But being able to follow the games over here has made the journey a little more enjoyable.”

Their unit -- Bravo Battery/1-76 Field Artillery, 4th Brigade 3rd Infantry Division -- occupies the entry control points and towers around Camp Ramadi, and it provides security for Iraqi government buildings in the city.

Teams of three to six soldiers go on missions in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles.

On July 30, the day their favorite team beat the Reds in a 10th-inning comeback on the road, Allen and Walsh displayed a Braves banner on their giant armored car and snapped a photo.

“We thought they might get a kick out of how far their fan base stretches,” wrote Walsh, who was recently moved to Al Asad Air Base.

They expect to be back in Georgia for Opening Day 2011.