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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Adrian Abram, Scott Roe, Carlo Aguon and Joey Chastain could be forgiven if they’re spending much time lately checking for e-mails or phone messages.

Specifically from Air Force sports at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

The four, stationed at Kadena Air Base, are hoping they’ll be selected as candidates for this year’s All-Air Force men’s softball tryout camp and become first-time members of the All-Air Force team.

“I’m anxious,” said Chastain, a staff sergeant and an outfielder for Okinawa’s Yellow Box open team playing in this weekend’s 9th Firecracker Shootout Open Tournament. “That’s what I’ve wanted to do” since he started playing varsity softball in the Air Force eight years ago. “They’re the best of the best.”

With nine players from last year’s All-Air Force team not returning this year because of duty commitments and other reasons, Chastain hopes to become a “next big thing” in Air Force softball.

So, too, does Roe, also a staff sergeant and a Yellow Box outfielder who went to the camp last year but didn’t survive the first round of cuts.

“I’m just waiting and hoping,” added shortstop Carlo Aguon, another staff sergeant and a shortstop for Okinawa’s Pacific Force. “We’ll just see what happens.”

“I’m excited,” said Abram, a senior airman and an outfielder for the Kadena Falcons base team. “It’d be nice to go up against that type of competition.”

But to get an invitation to camp, the four must travel a long, arduous road:

• First, each prospect submits an Air Force form 303, “Request for USAF Specialized Sports Training” — a résumé, by any other name — to Air Force sports.

They’re reviewed by Air Force sports director Steve Brown and the Air Force men’s coach, Steve “Pup” Shortland, a master sergeant, who determine who gets invited to camp.

• The camp comes next, this year slated for Aug. 17 - Sept. 5 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

• Make the Air Force team and you play in the All-Armed Forces championship Sept. 6-11, also at Eglin.

• Following that, selectees to the All-Armed Forces team play in the Amateur Softball Association Class A nationals, scheduled for Sept. 16-19 at Sanford, Fla.

Just getting through the first two steps is easier said than done.

Start with getting approval to be away from duty for as long as five weeks to play softball, in an age when the Armed Forces are stretched to the limit with Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom going on and units deploying for months at a time.

While three of the four say their units have lent them support, Chastain, with Kadena’s civil engineering squadron, said he was told “there’s a 95 percent chance” that he might not be allowed to go even if Air Force selects him for camp.

“It’s a wait-and-see thing, to see if I get selected and then if I can go,” said Chastain, Kadena’s 2003 male Athlete of the Year.

At the tryout camp comes a rigorous series of workouts, practice games and actual games against local traveling teams in the Florida panhandle.

“It takes dedication, hustle and a little fortitude,” said Dexter High, a two-time All-Air Force veteran who plays for Yellow Box.

But “words can’t explain the way you feel when you make the cut,” High said. “Not only do you get to play with good guys, you become a family, you make lifelong friends.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.
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