The All-Army women's softball team dedicated its 2012 Armed Forces Softball Championship to third baseman Cpl. Ashley Walker and her late husband, Sgt. Brian Walker, who was killed May 13 in Afghanistan.
All-Army (8-1) wore black armbands adorned with initials B.T. throughout the week-long, triple-round-robin tournament against defending champion All-Air Force (7-2), All-Navy (3-6) and All-Marine Corps (0-9). All-Army defeated All-Air Force, 5-4, in the gold-medal game Sept. 20 at the Cannoneer Complex in Oklahoma.
Ashley (Caswell) Walker hails from Kingman.
"I think we came out and represented the Army very well," said Lindsey Gerheim of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. "It was the usual last-inning, last-game, last-out kind of experience, and that's what it's all about. These teams don't die and don't give up, so it was a great experience."
This tournament, however, had a touch of that life-and-death feeling. Walker's teammates call her "Smash" because of the way the three-time All-Armed Forces performer crushes softballs. She lost her 25-year-old husband on Mother's Day, yet resisted the temptation to cry when her team presented her with a parting gift at the Cannoneer Complex.
She chose to stay and play with her team in Oklahoma on Monday while members of her unit placed a brick in Brian Walker's honor at the Military Police Memorial Grove at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
"As you have said, he would say: 'It's only a stupid brick,'" former All-Army women's softball coach Rob Bailey said as he presented a black jacket to Walker after the medal ceremony. "Well, you've got something better than a brick that you won for him. On the jacket, it says 'In Loving Memory of Brian Walker,' and this is from your 2012 All-Army Team.
"The love that you have and the way you carry yourself makes it possible for all of us to learn from you. You will always be a part of our lives. We will always remember you as a captain of our team."
As the ladies broke from their final huddle of the week-long tourney, they screamed: "Brian Walker, All-Army!"
"For the veterans, a lot of us have known Brian and met Brian," Gerheim said. "Brian was one of our biggest fans."
Bailey shared his take of what happened on military policeman Brian Walker's last patrol near Bowri Tana, Afghanistan.
"He put up a Facebook message at three o'clock in the morning, saying: 'Hey, Ashley, I just want to tell you how much I love you before I go out on mission.' Three hours later, he was hit by an (improvised explosive device) and killed. When it happened, her commander called me immediately to tell me what happened, so we worked on getting her back home. Ashley and her husband and her sister were all in the same unit."
Brian had encouraged Ashley to leave Afghanistan for All-Army softball camp at Fort Sill as soon as possible.
"He told her, 'Listen, Ashley, I want you here because you're my wife, and I don't want you here because you're my wife,'" Bailey said. "His whole thing was the sooner she could go to camp, the sooner she could get out of the war zone because they were getting hit pretty hard down there. You want to see what love is about? You should have seen those two when they were together."
Ashley wound up escorting her husband's body back to the U.S.
"We were both in Afghanistan," she said. "We had just got back off R&R, and like six days later he got hit by an IED. And I escorted him all the way home, and here I am. He's the one who made me turn my All-Army softball packet in before I went on R&R. He wanted me to be able to leave Afghanistan early if there was a way. I probably wouldn't have been able to, but then that happened."
"Then my two-star asked me what he could do for me, and I said, 'I just need to play All-Army softball for my husband.' And we won the gold medal."
Ashley has dedicated pretty much everything to Brian.
"Every day is tough, you know, but I do everything for him because he gave his life for me - for everybody. I am way proud of this gold medal, and he is, too. He is. I'm just happy that we won the gold medal for my husband."
Ashley also struck Armed Forces gold in 2010, her rookie season in All-Army softball.
"He was around for the first one, and he is here for this one," she said. "I know he'd be happy. I stayed here because I'm one of the team captains, and you have to follow out the mission you start."
"Brian always came out," Gerheim said. "Ashley, Brian and I are all military police officers, so we had a lot to relate. He was just a great individual and gave his life. Ashley does a great job of extending his memory through both softball and her accomplishments in the military. While unfortunately she is going to choose the civilian life, I know she'll continue to inspire many of the girls that come out here for All-Army in the future."
Walker also transitioned from first base to the "hot corner" at third base, where she was selected for both the All-Tournament and All-Armed Forces Team that competed in the 2012 Amateur Softball Association National Championships Sept. 28-30 in Oklahoma City.
Gerheim, Maj. Terri Andreoni of Fort Bliss, Texas; 1st Lt. Alyson McWherter of Fort Stewart, Ga.; and Sgt. Jenna Martin of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., also were named to the All-Armed Forces Team. Master Sgt. Kenneth Fairley of Fort Sill will manage the squad and Sgt. 1st Class Andre Amantine, also of Fort Sill, will be his assistant. Capt. Justin Zimmerman of Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., will serve as team trainer.
"This year was especially harsh just because it was her soul mate," Andreoni said. "The only reason she was here was because of him. He made her put her packet in."