MIAMI -- A couple of years ago, Marlins special assistant and Hall of Famer Andre Dawson had the sobering experience of visiting wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
It was during a series with the Nationals, and several members from the Marlins stopped by the military hospital in a show of support for the troops.
"The touching part was the ages of a lot of the patients," Dawson said. "When I say their ages, they were very young. I could only imagine at that point how many kids were over there.
"What their life was like. You're talking about 20, 21, 22. That's when they should be enjoying their lives, but they're taking the liberty to go out and to represent their country."
In the upcoming days, Dawson again will get a better understanding of military life. The 2010 Hall of Fame inductee is part of a Marlins contingent heading overseas to visit United States troops in Germany and Southwest Asia as part of the "Caravan of Troops." The trip begins on Thursday, as those selected will travel to Washington before heading overseas. They will return on Feb. 11, which will then kick off the organization's annual caravan, which leads into the start of Spring Training, which is Feb. 18 for Florida.
For the second straight year, the Marlins are working with Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE) to reach out to those serving their country.
The contingent includes outfielder Logan Morrison, catcher John Buck, team president David Samson, special assistant Jeff Conine and Dawson. Also part of the group are Sean Flynn (Marlins senior vice president of marketing), John Sulser (Fox Sports Florida Marlins game producer), Boris Menier (Marlins marketing supervisor) and three members of the Marlins Mermaids dance team.
"As long as Armed Forces Entertainment will continue to make these trips, the Marlins will continue to go on these trips," Samson said. "It's something we care very deeply about. We always say we run a baseball team. We are here to entertain people. To the extent we can bring that entertainment overseas is something that we've always wanted to do. We're proud that we are a team that does it."
In 2010, representatives from the organization traveled to Iraq and Kuwait. Chris Coghlan, John Baker and president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest were part of that trip.
Initially, Dawson and Conine were supposed to go to Iraq and Kuwait. But Dawson had to cancel once he was selected into the Hall of Fame. Conine was unable to go because the dates overlapped his annual charity golf tournament.
As part of the 2011 trip, the Marlins will visit wounded soldiers at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
After seeing soldiers at Walter Reed, Dawson is better prepared for what he will experience at Landstuhl.
"To see some of the injuries they sustained, and to see individuals [with lost] body parts and with amputations, that's touching," Dawson said.
As a player with the Reds a few years ago, Conine also experienced life at Walter Reed.
"The first room we went into, a 19-year-old kid had a bullet rip open his entire digestive track," Conine said. "He had been there six months, after he had already been on the battlefield. He will never be the same. It was hard for me to realize that. I am old enough to be his dad, and he's got a dad out there somewhere who knows that his kid is forever changed."
Like last year, two active Marlins will be on the trip. Morrison, 23, is going in honor of his father, Tom, who passed away from lung cancer in December. Tom Morrison previously served in the Coast Guard.
"When David asked me to do this, my only answer was yes, with my father being in the military," Morrison said. "It was a way to honor him.
"I think the Marlins have a really good grasp on reality. The troops do what they do over there so that we can play a game for a living. I think that is really special and something that needs to be recognized, not just once a year, but year-round. As long as we have [troops] over there, I'd be willing to go over there and see them."
Buck, a free-agent acquisition, will be meeting the group in Washington. In all, the Marlins will be spending about 32 hours in transit over the next eight days.
The members of the Marlins are bringing their gloves, and they plan on playing catch with the troops. They'll also be handing out caps and shirts, as well as interacting with the soldiers.
The team also is striving to set up a Super Bowl watch party with the troops. Because of the time difference, the football game will start about 2:30 a.m. on Monday.
"This is a whole new group this year going," Samson said. "That ensures that everyone in our organization has a chance to really give back to soldiers all around the world."