Coghlan still touched by winter visit to troops

Coghlan still touched by winter visit to troops

MIAMI -- Seeing the troops firsthand opened Chris Coghlan's eyes as to what life is really like for those in the United States military.

In late January, Coghlan was part of a Marlins contingent that traveled to Kuwait and Iraq to support those serving their country. The visit was done in cooperation with Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE), and it was an enlightening experience for the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year.

"That's a memory that will last a lifetime," Coghlan said. "It's something that I cherished. It's something that was big for me, to be able to go and be more involved and see firsthand."

Veterans Day is a time to pay tribute to those who serve in the armed forces. To the Coghlan family, it has long been a day to reflect.

"When I was younger, Veterans Day impacted my life because my dad made it a big thing," Coghlan said. "But I don't think I fully grasped it until my brother was in the Marines and served."

Kevin Coghlan was a corporal in the U.S. Marines and served two tours in Iraq.

"For me, I look at Veterans Day and realize how important of a day it is for our country, how important it is for the men and women who have served our country, those who are willing to give up their lives for our country and our freedom," Chris Coghlan said. "It's something that I'm very proud of that I've had family who have served our country."

As an organization, the Marlins have consistently reached out to those in the military. On Tuesday, a group from the team, including first baseman Gaby Sanchez, took a tour of the USS Jason Dunham, a Navy warship named in honor of Jason Dunham, a 22-year-old who gave up his life in 2004 to save the lives of his platoon.

The ship currently is docked at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.

When Coghlan traveled to Iraq and Kuwait earlier in the year, he got a glimpse of the conditions the troops deal with on a daily basis.

"I wasn't in and never will fully understand somebody who has served our country, because I haven't gone through the things they have gone through," Coghlan said. "But as close to action as I was, I was able to see what they go through. It's something that impacts my heart and my life forever. I'm forever grateful for that."

The Marlins group that went to Iraq and Kuwait included catcher John Baker, members of the front office, the Marlins Mermaids and former manager Fredi Gonzalez.

"You see things on TV, and it's almost like black and white," Coghlan said. "When you go to Kuwait and Iraq, it makes everything seem in color because you're seeing it firsthand. It's like, 'Whoa.'"

Since making the trip, Coghlan has wanted to do more for the troops, so he is helping spearhead an initiative where people can send handwritten letters to the troops. The hope is that the program will be launched by Spring Training.

"The best way to communicate and the most consistent way they can communicate is through letters," Coghlan said. "Yes, it takes more time. I wish I knew this before my brother served over there. A letter is much more appreciated on their side."

While in Iraq and Kuwait, Coghlan was touched by how important receiving mail is to those serving.

"You're talking about men and women who are serving our country, and the only form of communication they get from their own country members and friends is through a letter," he said. "Very rarely do they have Internet time. I remember when my brother was serving in Iraq, every once in a while, he could receive an e-mail and write one back.

"I wish I had taken more time to write handwritten letters to my brother. That touched my heart when I saw people chasing for mail. They'd run to the mailman. It was like, 'How many letters did they get? How many people care about you?' That's kind of how they look at it."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.