From One Vet To Another

A bouncing castle, a face painting booth, and a hot barbeque – it’s Frank Shamrock’s kind of day. Wearing the smile he made famous during Pancrase battles, the former UFC champion is at Moffett Field, just outside his hometown of San Jose, for something a little more serious than the airy day suggests. Shamrock is here to deliver a message: Welcome home, troops.

The Bay Area’s fi rst annual Veteran’s Association Welcome Home Event let local service members and veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan know about all the services and benefi ts available to them as they transition back to civilian life. An All-American atmosphere with fl ags waving surrounds the tables where local celebrities await to interact with America’s bravest men and women.

Shamrock, former Marine and gym manager Ralph King, and Navy and IFL veteran Jeff Quinlan are ready to send returning troops on a new adventure should they choose to accept. But Frank asks, “Where are the belts?” Everyone exchanges confused, accusatory, disappointed looks. “That’s our eye candy!” exclaims Shamrock, who has held any belt he ever fought for. “That’s what’s going to get people to come to our table.”

With impromptu Mission Belt Retrieval in full swing, people notice the fi fteen-year fi ght veteran anyway. The professional ass-kicker stands to the side of the autograph table to greet fans, then drifts off to adjacent tables, and sniffs out the hotdogs.

A grey, unkempt man with a goatee approaches. Muscled up, tattooed, and wearing a thick blue beanie in the crushing heat, the veteran vaguely recognizes Shamrock. He places his hand on Frank’s shoulder and kindly wishes for an autograph for his grandchildren. Before Shamrock gets his Sharpie on the glossy paper, the grandfather is sifting through names he can’t spell, making sure he remembers them all, and prodding Frank for more. He leaves with a stack of Shamrock photos – as many as he asked for.

Mostly fans stop by. “I think you’re the best fi ghter alive,” says a star-struck teenager. The eight-time world champion replies, “I do too, but my wife doesn’t think so.”

Finally, a young 6’3” vet named Eric comes to the table. Shamrock sizes him up and enthusiastically informs him about the unique opportunity provided to veterans by his gym. The Veteran’s Association covers funds for training and teaching, allowing former troops to become certifi ed instructors at the Shamrock Martial Arts Academy – the fi rst MMA gym to offer such a program. It is a fast track into the world of MMA, but more importantly, it is a job for returning soldiers.

“It’s not just for fi ghting, what happens when you get hurt?” asks King, who incorporates a “how to run a gym” element to the program. Spending four years in the Marines and two years as a reserve, King knows most infantrymen don’t have college educations. This is why the program pitches making a living – as an instructor, fi ghter, and gym manager, not just one of the above – before anything else. Now, with the military teaching MMA more than boxing, it is a logical step for those coming home.

Those at the event are suddenly drawn to the table in droves. The arrival of fi ve title belts (four UFC, one Strikeforce) brings fanfare (even the Raiderettes took a picture with Shamrock) and genuine interest in the program. Shamrock answers all questions, from “Retired?” to, “Did you win your last fi ght?” The second inquiry was answered by showing off his forearm scar, which resulted from surgery after his bout with Cung Le.

He puts down his hot dog for a photo with a seven-year-old self-proclaimed future world champion. Later, he stops on his way out for a last-minute photo. It is all in a day’s work, but this one held greater importance.

For as long as Frank Shamrock has been in the fi ght game, he has been teaching selfdefense for law enforcement. He understands the power of this program for the military and MMA. The VA-funded training program is a new life after encounters with death – a chance to keep on fi ghting. There is undeniable overlap in what it takes to be a soldier and what it takes to be a fi ghter: dedication, strength, and courage. Put simply, Semper Fi.

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