HOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) - Sports have been good to Bryan Belcher.
He served in the U.S. Army out of Fort Bragg from 2005 to 2009, doing a tour in Afghanistan.
"On August 21, 2006, we got ambushed and the Humvee I was riding in took a direct hit to my door. I jumped out 'cause immediately all I saw was flames. I jumped out and was rolling around because I was on fire. I got shot in the leg," he said.
He then spent a year and a half in and out of the hospital. He sustained shrapnel injuries and lost a finger. He struggled with chronic post-traumatic stress. Eventually, he retired from the Army.
And that, Belcher said, is when things got worse.
"You do anything you can to cope. You're depressed. You're feeling like you're useless. You don't have a purpose. And basically, I drank my life away," he said.
When Belcher woke for his last bender, doctors told him his blood-alcohol content (BAC) level had been .31. To put that in perspective, it's nearly four times Michigan's legal limit to drive of .08.
Enough, he decided, was enough.
"Sports saved my life, really," he said.
He was asked to participate in VETSports. In his case, it was a national traveling softball team of veterans who play games for charity.
At a recent game in Danville, Illinois, the group raised $13,000 for a group of kids with disabilities.
"When you are carrying them to first base after they get a hit in a baseball game that they are probably never going to be able to play, oh, wow, does that do something," he said. "It really helps you mentally. "
Helping himself by helping others has paid off for Belcher and VETSports. The organization is growing.
And Belcher has accepted a position to build an all-Michigan team. He is looking for veterans -- injured or not -- to join his team.
But at its core, VETSports isn't about softball.
"It's about the team. It's about the team and the camaraderie we once had in the military," Belcher said.
Wednesday, Grand Rapids police and firefighters will take on a group of hand-selected veterans from all over the country at Fifth Third Ballpark. Gates open at 5 p.m. Games begin at 6 p.m. Tickets for adults are $10 each. Entry is free for children under the age of 12.
Proceeds will go to benefit Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.
Contact Bryan Belcher, regional coordinator for VETSports at email@example.com
The extravaganza was Dec. 11, 2013 in downtown Grand Rapids.
Gary Rolls Jr. has announced he'll resign from the Kent County Board of Commissioners, effective Jan. 1, 2014.
A fire damaged three garages and some homes in a Grand Haven neighborhood early Thursday morning.