By Erich Langer, Warrior Transition Command Public Affairs
For one particular Veteran competing for a position on the 2012 Army Warrior Games sitting volleyball team, the selection clinic taking place this week in Oklahoma is pretty serious stuff. Armando Mejia focused like a laser beam and was ‘all ears’ as he attentively listened to clinic organizers, USA Volleyball coaches and other cadre discuss the training schedule, expectations and responsibilities for each of the players seeking a coveted slot on the prestigious Army team that will compete for gold at next spring’s Warrior Games.
Another boring Army training brief not unlike scores of others he likely has heard throughout his military career? Nope, for Mejia this is all business.
Warrior Games is a joint endeavor between the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and the U.S. Department of Defense. As many as 200 wounded, ill, and injured athletes from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy-Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations Command will compete next spring for gold medals in seven sports at the USOC’s National Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“After hearing about the opportunity to compete and represent the Army at the Warrior Games, I knew I wanted to do this,” said Mejia who credited MSG Rebeca Garo, AW2 Adaptive Sports Liaison who is serving as cadre staff for the clinic to getting him signed up for the clinic. “She was very enthusiastic about Warrior Games and provided me all the information I needed, she got me really excited about this opportunity.”
You can tell by looking in his eyes, this is something he wants. Coaches won’t have any motivational or discipline problems with Mejia; more likely, he’ll be a team leader that younger Soldiers and Veterans will look to for inspiration and guidance.
This ‘ain’t’ his first rodeo!
“I want to push myself physically and mentally during this week’s clinic,” said Mejia. “It feels great to be part of a team and the camaraderie is outstanding. It’s hard to describe the feelings of being part of a group that is focused on winning and becoming a more cohesive unit.”
His road to the University of Central Oklahoma’s (UCO) Army Warrior Gamessitting volleyball team selection clinic began in October 2004 while on a deployment to Iraq. Mejia was traveling in a convoy when his HUMVEE was struck by an Improvised Explosive Devise (IED). Following the blast, his vehicle rolled 360 degrees. He was pinned beneath the HUMVEE; injuries included broken bones, internal bleeding, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Post Traumatic Stress. After more than 22 surgeries, Mejia decided to transition to Veteran status.
As an AW2 Veteran, Mejia is among more than 9,000 of the Army’s most severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans. His affiliation with the Army could have ended there after all, he wasn’t in uniform any longer and the world presented him several opportunities. Mejia chose a different path, a path that would lead him directly back to helping and working with Soldiers. No, he wouldn’t be wearing ACUs anymore but he would be responsible for scores of Soldiers as a newly minted AW2 Advocate.
“Mejia is something really special,” said Garo. “He knew he wanted to help Soldiers like himself and continue to be a leader and mentor for others. So, he worked with his AW2 Advocate, Sue Maloney, who provided him some advice and recommendations on how to proceed. He his among as many as 200 AW2 Advocates working with, for, and on behalf of the Army’s most severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers.”
Like Maloney, Mejia is assisting severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers in the northwest. He currently is posted at Joint Base Lewis McCord (JBLM).