Airmen help families, boost morale during softball tournament

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Gunfighters participated in the Operation Warmheart softball tournament for three days straight starting on July 25 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.

Teams from across Idaho competed for a chance to win the championship.

"It brings people together from the civilian and military worlds to take care of Air Force warriors and their families," said Allen Niksich, 366th Force Support Squadron community readiness specialist.

Operation Warmheart is a nonprofit organization created in the late 1980s dedicated to helping Airmen and their families.

"Different First Sergeant Councils on a few bases across the Air Force started functions ran by the council to assist families in need," said Niksich. "The idea caught on and now all bases have some form of Operation Warmheart to help take care of the Air Force warriors and their families."

The matches started with a commanders versus chiefs and first sergeants match. Games continued into the night, one every hour, with the championship taking place in the afternoon July 27.

"We [had] teams coming from as far as Twin Falls and Boise," said Master Sgt. Kelly Riedel, 366th Civil Engineering Squadron first sergeant.

A 25-year-old fundraising event, the softball tournament had humble beginnings.

"Back in 1990 when I first arrived here, I was a young first sergeant," said Niksich. "We were gearing up for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and we had a lot of families who were financially strapped with large numbers of Gunfighters departing for a real-world deployment."

Facing this situation, Niksich worked to find a way to support deploying Airmen as well as lend a hand to the families they left behind.

"We didn't have much incoming money to Operation Warmheart at the time," said Niksich. "Knowing we had a good size population of people who liked softball, I thought we should put on a softball tournament to raise money to assist our young families."

Instead of playing a game to win, participants play for the opportunity to have fun and give back to others.

"The registration price was $100 and either a box of diapers or a case of canned goods per team," said Niksich. "We wanted it to be more about morale than competition, so we made it a 72-hour tournament...non-stop!"

With 100 percent of Warmheart donations going back to the Gunfighter community, individuals appreciate every bit they can do.

"When someone comes up to you and says, hey boss, I need some help, and you are able to give them the help they need- it's worth it," said Master Sgt. Joshua Sebring, 366th Component Maintenance Squadron first sergeant.

Teams participated in friendly banter before and during the competition over who might be this year's winners. Ultimately, the chiefs and the first sergeants emerged victorious over the commanders after the opening game. The championship match featured an intense game between the "Fire Pros" and "Reloaded" with "Reloaded" as this year's champions.

For some, this is more than just a 72-hour softball game -- it's an awe-inspiring experience.

It's all about giving folks a really fun weekend while ensuring our young families have resources when they need the help, said Niksich. "I get to keep giving back to our Airmen and their families who continue to fight the good fight!"