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ZEROK, Afghanistan

A platoon of soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Division’s Company D seems to be always talking about baseball — especially when its members are manning the towers that protect Zerok Combat Outpost.

Their counterparts with the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment gave some of the ridges and mountaintops around the area female names to help quickly identify them during attacks. The Sky Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade decided they preferred the names of Major League teams.

"I ain’t never going to look at baseball the same when I go back to the States," Spc. Corey McRae muttered while pulling duty in one of the towers recently. "I’m going to forever hate the Boston Red Sox."

McRae isn’t a Yankees fan from New York. He’s from North Carolina. But one particular mountain ridge, dubbed Red Sox, overlooking the compound was a favorite destination for those who preferred that the U.S. soldiers take their bats, balls and other stuff and go home.

They continually fired rockets and mortars at the compound until the U.S. responded with heavy firepower.

"We tore it up so much, they don’t go there anymore," McRae said.

So it’s possible the team from Boston might make a comeback, of sorts, with at least some of the soldiers in the unit.

Staying in the ArmyA 15-month deployment to Afghanistan isn’t keeping a large percentage of the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment from staying in the Army.

First Rock — as the battalion from Vicenza, Italy, is known — has exceeded its retention goals across the board, according to Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Ortiz.

Ortiz, the battalion’s career counselor, said the number of re-enlistments for those who had just joined the Army is particularly high. The battalion was tasked to have 40 soldiers from that category re-enlist. A hundred chose to do so. Sixty-two soldiers in mid-career are re-enlisting, topping the goal of 50. And 23 soldiers with more service time are staying in, opposed to a goal of 17.

"Does that make any sense while we’re in a 15-month deployment?," asked Lt. Col. Mike Fenzel , the battalion commander.

Fenzel attributes the high numbers to strong leadership by the battalion’s noncommissioned officers and junior officers. Ortiz gives credit to Fenzel and Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Weik.

Ortiz also said a large percentage of soldiers decided to sign up after they were assured postings that shouldn’t see them deploy for at least a few years. Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade have served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq since 2003.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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