Lufkin All-Stars dad a war veteran and appreciates team's bond

Source: Jeff Slaga
Source: Jeff Slaga

WILLIAMSPORT, PA (KTRE) - The father of the Lufkin All-Stars shortstop is used to being a leader. He ended his military career in 2006 running a combat operation center in Iraq before coaching his son's baseball teams for several years.

Today, he's happy to sit on the sidelines and watch Manager Bud Maddux and his assistants lead his son and the crew to a potential world championship.

Jeff Slaga last coached his son, Blake, during league play this year.

Slaga served in active duty as a Marine from 1991 to '97, in reserve duty from '97 to '99 and again as a reserve from '03 to '06.

Slaga worked as a senior watch officer in Iraq during his last stint. This was during the roughest part of the Iraqi conflict.

Slaga ran a combat operation center on 12-hour shifts. Troops were assigned "outside the wire" and Slaga's crew controlled their activities.

"They would call in to us if there was anything they needed and we would kind of run the battle," Slaga said.

While he wasn't on the battlefield, he was responsible for lives and with that came a lot of stress.

"My stress came from hearing things happening and trying to assist and I felt like I couldn't do enough to help them," Slaga said. "Guys were in battle, calling back to us for medivacs, support, evacs. So knowing they're engaged, knowing there's stuff going on outside the wire left me not knowing really what's going on or what to do about it. It was most stressful when I had to send a medivac because I knew someone's life depended on my action."

Slaga said he lost 11 men during that stint in Iraq.

"At the time, it's one of those things you know is a possibility," Slaga said. "It's tough to take. But as a leader, it's something you have to compartmentalize. You know going into the infantry it's something that's going to happen. Everyone just has to lean on each other."

Slaga was home when his wife, Kelli, gave birth to Blake in 2004. He had to leave his family three weeks after he was born.

"I left her with a three-year-old, an 18-month-old and a newborn," Slaga said. "I'll tell you, I'd much rather have been in my shoes than hers then."

Slaga came home right before Blake's first birthday. He said when Blake turned 2, he got a plastic ball and bat for his birthday.

"I watched him hit the mess out of that ball and thought, 'God, he's only 2!'" Slaga said.

Slaga began coaching his son in T-ball and has coached him ever since. He coached Blake in select ball, along with five other players on today's All-Star team.

"I really enjoyed it and he showed an interest and talent and I loved it," Slaga said. "I loved coaching the kids. Some of the best memories were coaching not only my son, but watching the other kids blossom."

Today, Slaga works in the timber industry. He says the team's training to get to where they are now has created a bond he felt when he was in the military.

"Their experience with Bud this summer and the hardships they went through with Bud, with these two-a-days, with running until some of them puked, and sharing that all the way through two-a-days, not really knowing how they're going to do through your district, to sectional, to state and through the regional to get to this point, to look at the bond they all have is very similar to how it was in the military," Slaga said. "You're not in a combat zone but the experience they've all had and what's kind of bonded and galvanized them is very similar to the military-shared experiences."

Slaga's son isn't very familar with Slaga's experiences in the military but he does appreciate him.

"I'm proud that he just went in there and risked his life for my family and everyone else in the country," Blake said. "And I'm really glad he made it back because I don't know what I'd do without him."

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