KANSAS CITY -- Rex Hudler's three days at Fort Bragg, N.C., gave him great insight into and appreciation for the military life.
Hudler, a former player and now a Royals television broadcaster, fired a machine gun, served breakfast, made a simulated parachute jump and went through training drills. Mostly, though, he got to talk to and listen to some of the Army troops who guard this country.
"Our freedom is something that we sometimes take for granted, but there is a price and I sleep better at night knowing that we have these dedicated men and women that are there to protect us," Hudler said. "It's a very staggering and very humbling experience."
Hudler was part of a Fox Sports group that made a "Spring Training for the Troops" visit to Fort Bragg last week. The group included current players Chris Archer of the Rays and Mike Dunn of the Marlins, former players Royce Clayton, Chris Hammond, Davey Nelson and Jose Tolentino, and Fox Sports girls from several cities. Like Hudler, Nelson and Tolentino are also broadcasters.
"I've done a couple of aircraft carriers, I've flown with the Blue Angels. What we try to do is entertain the troops and have some fun with them, sign some autographs, put on a couple clinics for the soldiers' kids and try to boost morale a little bit," Hudler said. "Not only current players but former players and broadcasters but also the Fox girls were there, probably 10 beautiful, attractive, intelligent women. For soldiers, that's always a little extra bonus when you have some beauty along with it. So it was a good combination of entertainment."
This was the second year that Fox has organized the program at bases in and outside the United States. Fox Sports Kansas City plans to air a half-hour show of the event in March.
"We met with those cooking breakfast to infantry to Special Forces Green Berets and dined with three-star generals. It was very inspiring and encouraging," Hudler said. "And that three-star general that we met was humble enough to serve breakfast to the troops with us. It was great to see how close they were even though they may be far apart in rank."
The Fox participants got the choice of greeting dawn by joining soldiers in physical training or serving breakfast. Hudler put on an apron.
"I loved making breakfast and serving breakfast to the troops and sitting out there with them a little bit. And then taking their dirty dishes to the kitchen to me was more valuable than exercising with the troops. ... Looking at them in the eye and speaking to them -- you could see how shocked they were to see us there with our jerseys on -- that was more valuable," Hudler said.
"I'll never forget trying to take a young, 22-year-old soldier's plate from him and saying, 'Sir, are you finished? Can I take your plate for you?' And they were like, 'No way, you can't do that, I've got it, sir.' They were humbled that we could serve them and take their plate. It was humbling for me to do that. It was the least I could do for the little time I was there -- to have a chance to serve one of the people who serves me was an experience that I'll never forget."
Hudler noticed that at the various events on base, the Army always recognized its Gold Star families.
"I found out Gold Star families are those who have a lost a family member to war," he said. "So they take care of their own, they don't forget."
It reminded Hudler of something that he felt all Americans should not forget.
"These young men and women, along with their superiors, put their lives on the line," he said.
Hudler and the other members of the Fox group got the chance to get a feel for Army life.
"We went out to the range and we got to shoot an M4 machine gun, a sniper rifle and I was able to lay down on the ground and hit my target that was 400 meters away -- four football fields -- and I shot my target and it went down," Hudler said.
"We also got to experience jumping out of a 40-foot tower. That was pretty challenging -- to stand on that thing. Half wanted to do it and half didn't. ... It's like jumping out of an airplane. Then after you jump, you're zip-lined about 100 yards where the soldiers catch you and unhook you. So you've experienced, as close as you can, jumping out of an airplane."
And, of course, they conducted clinics and shared their knowledge of baseball with the troops and their families and did their best to give a boost to the troops. Hudler suspects, though, that he and the other Fox visitors really gained more than they gave.
"It was a wonderful opportunity to experience our military and the Army at its finest," he said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com.