BETHESDA, Md. (June 1, 2010) Under Secretary of the Navy Robert Work pins the Purple Heart on Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Nile Seaborn at the National Naval Medical Center. Seaborn was injured at a forward Operating Base in Afghanistan in April when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the base's chapel just as Seaborn walked by. (U.S. Navy photo by Chris Walz/Released)
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alan Gragg, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West
SAN DIEGO - A U.S. Navy medical officer threw out the honorary first pitch at Petco Park during a Major League Baseball game May 31, as part of the San Diego Padres' Memorial Day remembrance.
Lt. Johnfritz Antoine, of San Diego-based Navy Environment Preventive Medicine Unit (NEPMU) 5, was selected by the Padres organization to toss the ceremonial first pitch for his service during Operation Unified Response, an international relief effort to help earthquake victims in his birth nation of Haiti.
"They liked my story. I went back to the place I was born to help out, and they said it was a very neat story and they liked it best," said Antoine about why the Padres chose him out of several candidates to throw out the first pitch at the Padres' Memorial Day game against the New York Mets.
The crowd cheered wildly when Antoine was announced before making the throw, and despite his pre-throw jitters, he threw a strike.
"I think I did okay," said Antoine. "Giving how nervous I was, I thought I was going to drop it too low. Everyone was giving me a lot of advice. I put a little bit of heat on it, and it was a success."
The Padres theme for Memorial Day this year was humanitarian assistance, and they wanted to have a uniformed service member who has participated in humanitarian assistance throw out the first pitch.
"It was an honor to represent the Navy in that capacity," said Antoine. "While I was doing it, it was also in the back of my mind that this was to honor all the U.S. service members around the world, past and present."
Antoine lived in Haiti until he was 12, when his father took a job in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved the whole family. He graduated from the University of New York at Hunter in Manhattan before joining the Navy.
Antoine said he was proud to lend a hand in Haiti, through the Forward Deployed Preventive Medicine Unit (FDPMU).
"It was not just a one man show, I had a 13-man FDPMU team, and everyone did a fantastic job," said Antoine of his team's work in Haiti from Jan. 25 - March 21.
Antoine speaks both native Haitian languages, Haitian-Creole and French, which helped while he led the preventive medicine component of FDPMU. FDPMU consisted of medical personnel from NEPMU 5 and NEPMU 2, based out of Portsmouth, Va.
FDPMU's job was to help the people of Haiti with infection control, and provide environmental help through preventive medicine. They were also responsible for maintaining the health of U.S. service members participating in the relief effort.
After throwing out the first pitch, Antoine thanked the Padres organization for allowing him to represent the Navy and be a part of the Memorial Day festivities at Petco Park.
"They are a world-class organization," said Antoine. "It was one of the best nights of my life, and they made that happen."