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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Indians’ new ‘Operation Fly Together’ aims to support local military veterans

The pandemic has postponed many events the past 15 months. On Thursday, one was finally able to proceed – despite the wind and rain showers.

It brought together at Avista Stadium many elements vital to the Spokane region: Fairchild Air Force Base, regional military veterans and veterans’ groups, the Spokane Tribe of Indians and the Spokane Indians baseball team.

They even served apple pie for dessert.

The team announced at the event the launch of a new community campaign, “Operation Fly Together,” centered on honoring and supporting local military veterans.

The campaign stems from an agreement – signed on Oct. 23, 2019 – between Team Fairchild and the baseball team, designed to celebrate the KC-135 tanker, build pride for the base’s critical functions and help better the lives of veterans from all services who have settled in the Spokane region.

“We’re excited about it,” Spokane Indians baseball club senior vice president Otto Klein said. “We’re excited that not only are we the community’s baseball team, but we can do acts like this that help our community, and we’re proud to be involved.”

The campaign, supported by STCU, Innovia Foundation, KHQ-TV and The Spokesman-Review, will build financial support and awareness for the newly created Operation Fly Together Veterans Fund. The campaign has been endorsed locally by Spokane County & Eastern Washington Veterans Services.

“When you think about fixtures and important institutions in this community, you think of the Spokane Indians baseball team and you think about Fairchild Air Force Base,” Washington state Sen. Andy Billig said. “So it’s natural that they would come together for a partnership to serve those who have served our community and our country.”

The event included the presentation of the first checks from the fund to three local veteran causes: Newby-ginnings of North Idaho for general operating expenses; restoration of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Riverfront Park; and to the Spokane Tribe of Indians for a new handicap ramp for VFW Post 10711.

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward accepted the check for the veterans memorial on behalf of the city.

“We are a military community, and an event like this is really one of a kind,” Woodward said. “(The memorial) has been there for many, many decades and it needs some work. And I think we need to make it a priority to make sure that we care for those memorials that honor those who have served.”

Klein told the story of Sgt. Chris Weichman, who wanted to surprise his wife and son when he returned from his third tour of duty in Afghanistan in July, 2011, by reuniting with them on the field at an Indians game. Klein said the homecoming was the genesis of the agreement announced Thursday.

Weichman and his family were in attendance at the event.

“The story isn’t just about me and my family and coming home,” Weichman said. “It’s the idea that I’m one of many in the veteran community and military, and every time we ask our veterans and service members to go out the door and defend our country and fight, they leave family behind.”

“I thought it was uplifting,” Spokane Indians team managing partner Bobby Brett said. “You know, if it didn’t bring tears to your eyes, something’s wrong with you. It was wonderful and this is, I really believe, this is going to be a way bigger program than what people realize, and we’re 100% in.”

As part of the campaign, the team unveiled a new merchandise line. Included is a new alternate team uniform – modeled after the current U.S. Air Force service dress uniform – which the team will wear at every Friday night game, starting June 4 against the Tri-City Dust Devils.

“I know the players are gonna love them,” Klein said. “We had a couple (players) model them a week back and they were already telling us how great they are.”

A portion of the sales from merchandise will go toward the Operation Fly Together Veterans Fund.

Klein said additional possible campaign elements, which will be debuted over the next few years, include a new KC-135 mascot, ceremonial “12th man”-style flag, educational markers and more.