Educating and Informing Others on AW2 through Hockey

By Stephen Lew, AW2 Advocate

AW2 Advocate Stephen Lew spread the word about AW2 with his local community during the annual Lebanon Valley College vs. Navy Hockey Game during the Military Appreciation Night at Hershey Park Arena on October 28, 2011.

The Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Advocates often attend events to support AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families and to educate others on the support that AW2 provides for them. I was fortunate to not only be invited, but provide AW2 information and material to attendees during the second annual Military Appreciation Night at the Hershey Park Arena in Hershey, PA.

The night consisted of the Lebanon Valley College (Dutchmen) ice hockey team playing against the Naval Academy team. During the event last year, the Hershey Park Arena hosted the event as a fundraiser for wounded warriors through a nonprofit organization.

As I stood at my AW2 table, the general public came to my display and asked what the difference was between last year’s nonprofit organization and AW2. My response –AW2 is the Army lead and designed by the Soldier for the Soldier. AW2 works inside the network of Army, government, and local and national resources to help Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families resolve many issues. Wounded warriors may apply for a wide array of benefits in order to help them recover physically, prepare financially, and build their skills for a rewarding career. AW2 Advocates, like me, ensure that AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families are connected with these benefits and services, which span:

  • Career and education
  • Insurance
  • Finance
  • Retirement and transition
  • Healthcare
  • Services for Families
  • Human resources

It was a great opportunity to inform and educate numerous Veterans and non-Veterans about AW2. In the end, The Naval Academy rolled over the Dutchmen by 3 to 2, final score.

Thank you to the Lebanon Valley College ice hockey team head coach, Don Parsons, and assistant coach, John Denver, for connecting the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program with this opportunity—and future opportunities—to help members of the community learn more about the Army’s support for wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families.

 

Army Ten-Miler– Race Day

BG Darryl Williams, Commander, Warrior Transition Command, poses with the runners and volunteers from the WTC Army Ten-Miler team and the Community Based Warrior Transition Unit-Illinois team.

By LTC Jeanette Griffin, WTC Stratcom
The 27th Army Ten-Miler (ATM) race took place on October 9.  More than 30,000 registered runners, including the infamous WTC Army Ten-Miler Team, competed in one of the largest 10 mile races in the world.

I was fortunate to be a part of the first ever Warrior Transition Command (WTC) ATM team and first ever WTC HOOAH Tent. Everyone was excited to see WTC represented at the ATM’s HOOAH zone and BG Darryl Williams, Assistant Surgeon General for Warrior Care and Transition and WTC Commander, showed his support to everyone participating, giving special recognition to the WTUs, Community Based Warrior Transition Units (CBWTUs), and the Missing Parts in Action Team.

The WTC team consisted of 20 military and civilians who came together to participate as a team, as well as meet individual goals during this great race. The race began on Route 110 and finished in the Pentagon North Parking Lot. The landmarks along the course were spectacular—the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial, Washington Monument, and the Capitol Building.

What a perfect day for a race—the weather was absolutely gorgeous. The Missing Parts in Action team members and other wounded warrior athletes truly inspired us to continue until we reached our goal of reaching the finish line. The excitement and camaraderie of the runners, spectators, and volunteers was highly motivating throughout the race— the months of hard work and sweat finally paid off.

LTG Jack C. Stultz, Chief, Army Reserve and BG Darryl Williams exchanged greetings and during the Army Ten-Miler.

Everyone commented that the HOOAH tent was decorated beautifully, and I have to agree. There were pictures of Soldiers, Veterans, and Families covering the inside of the tent and the food was amazing! Several volunteers and runners made their “World Famous Chili” and one volunteer brought a particularly delicious dish of meatballs. The banner stretching above the tent showcased some of our Warrior Games athletes. Not only was the tent nicely decorated, but Family members, volunteers, and the WTC Strategic Communications Division were in full swing. Both the WTC runners and volunteers wore distinctive black WTC team shirts.  The volunteers also passed out information about our organization and  our achievements helping wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and Families.

While we were lucky to have a tent in the HOOAH Tent Zone this year, the greatest reward was being able to share it with Community Based Warrior Transition Unit Illinois (CBWTU-IL).  This is an extremely diligent team of professional supporters of the wounded warrior mission.  Thanks, CBWTU-IL, for your hard work and dedication to the cause.  WTC encompasses the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) and partners with WTUs and CBWTUs, so having an opportunity to gather with CBWTU-IL was remarkable.

According to LTC Paul Graham, CBWTU-IL, sharing a HOOAH tent with WTC allowed race participants to gather for photos before the race and share their race day stories afterwards over a bite to eat and drink. He also said “it was wonderful, because last year they were unable to come together like this. It was definitely a great time shared by everyone.”

We also had the opportunity to gather with the runners from the Missing Parts in Action Team— another amazing group of warriors running with a cause.

The HOOAH tent seemed to fill quickly with runners, supporters, and others wanting to share the excitement and gain knowledge of WTC. We remained very busy until the very end. Everyone was taking pictures and mingling. Among the visitors, were people from the Fort Sam Houston WTU, Community Based Warrior Transition Unit Massachusetts (CBWTU-MA), West Point WTU, and Alpha Co., WTU Fort Irwin, California.

WTC works hard to make sure everyone knows we are focused on care and support for all wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans in the Active, Guard, and  Reserve. We reiterated this mission with our visit to the Army Reserve HOOAH Tent where BG Williams had the opportunity to exchange greetings with LTG Jack C. Stultz, Chief, Army Reserve. To our surprise, our tent was also visited by wrestlers from the Army’s World Class Athlete Program who were working in the Army Reserve tent.

Retired SGT Robbie Gaupp, an injured Veteran and former National Guardsman, hung out at our tent. He spent his time talking about being in the National Guard and his wonderful experience during the 2011 Warrior Games. I applaud him for his hard work and hope to see him compete in the 2012 games.

Another important piece of the WTC HOOAH tent was the live broadcast by Charlie “Coach” Hatcher. Coach Hatcher is the host and executive producer of Sports Inside and Out, which broadcasted internationally in conjunction with the American Forces Network.

During his time at our tent, he was joined by NBA Philadelphia 76ers legend Walli Jones who was on hand with BG Williams, to speak to ATM wounded warriors that finished the race.

I would say the WTC team and the HOOAH tent were a major success. Congratulations to all of the ATM participants, you did a great job. I also want to say thank you to all of the volunteers and Families who came out to help and we look forward to your participation next year.

 

AW2 Veteran’s Rehabilitation Is Definitely “On Par”

By Chris Lewandowski, AW2 Advocate

To say it has been a busy couple of weeks for AW2 Veteran retired CPL Chad Pfeifer, would be an understatement. One week after winning the 2011 National Amputee Golf Championship, Pfeifer made his way to Irving, Texas, where he won the Inaugural Bush Center Warrior Open. The Warrior Open was sponsored by the George W. Bush Presidential Center and is part of the center’s Military Service Initiative, a program designed to showcase the importance of sports in the rehabilitation of wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

AW2 Veteran Chad Pfeifer received the Inaugural Bush Center Warrior Open championship trophy from former President George W. Bush.

Pfeifer competed against 20wounded warriors, ultimately winning the 36-hole event by nine strokes. Seven of the 20 wounded warriors participating were graduates of the Salute Military Golf Association’s program coached by PGA professional Jim Estes. After receiving the championship trophy from the former president, Pfeifer dedicated his win to “all of our brothers and sisters who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

Pfeifer suffered an above the knee amputation of his left leg after the vehicle he was in rolled over a pressure-plate- activated improvised explosive device (IED) outside Baghdad, Iraq, in April 2007. After more than a year in recovery, Pfeifer took up golf as a form of physical therapy.  While attached to the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Fort Sam Houston, Pfeifer was allowed to hit balls and golf for free. “I just fell in love with it,” says Pfeifer.

AW2 Veteran Chad Pfeifer wins the 2011 Inaugural Bush Center Warrior Open in Irving, TX.

Three years after his injury, he finished fourth in the 2010 National Amputee Golf Championship, and immediately set a new goal. “My goal was to win it,” said Pfeifer. However, winning the Warrior Open wasn’t as easy as he made it appear. “It was a little nerve-wracking with President Bush watching a lot of my tee shots,” Pfeifer said.

Adaptive Sports Paves the Road to Recovery for Soldiers

SFC Nouel Vargas, platoon sergeant, Bravo Company, Fort Carson WTB, practices his archery skills during an Adaptive Sports Experience clinic. The clinic was designed to “train the trainers”, who will pass those skills onto warriors in transition. Vargas also learned to operate the crossbow with his teeth, with an adaptive mitt and from a sitting position.

By Stacy Neumann, Fort Carson Medical Department Activity Public Affairs, Guest Blogger

SFC Jason Pichette gritted the Velcro strap in his jaw, using his teeth and neck to draw the crossbow’s strings back and pull it taut. The arrow flew forward, hitting the target’s lower third. The Soldiers behind him cheered.

“That was an accident,” the Fort Carson Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) platoon sergeant admitted with a sheepish grin. “I didn’t mean to let it go then.  I didn’t aim.”

Doesn’t sound like your typical day of Army physical training?  Welcome to PT– Warrior Transition style.

The Army’s Warrior Transition Command (WTC) established the use of adaptive sports to aid Warriors in Transition on the road to recovery and physical fitness. It mandates Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) find a way to implement at least three days of organized adaptive sports. Individual units determine how they want to do that. In addition, the WTC provided Fort Carson funding for at least 37 pieces of equipment, ranging from specialized wheelchairs, to crossbows and shot puts, and TRX® suspension trainer equipment. This equipment, worth more than $70,000, is designed to encourage and enhance the adaptive sports experience.

From August 15 through 19, Pichette joined 47 cadre members from Western Region WTUs, Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) representatives and others for a five-day adaptive sports experience course designed to “train the trainers.” Participants teamed up with United State Paralympic athletes to learn adaptive sports techniques, in hopes of passing those skills onto Warriors in Transition.

Jeff Fabry assisted in archery instruction. After losing an arm and a leg in an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) accident, he went on to win bronze medals in the Beijing and Athens Paralympic Games.

Fabry noted, “I know what they’re going to see and what challenges they face. You have to think out of the box.”

On Fort Carson, the WTB partners with four types of entities:  the Colorado Springs-based LifeQuest Transitions, Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation, the United States Olympic Committee’s (USOC) Paralympic Military Program, and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR). The four WTB companies rotate four days a week at these facilities, tackling activities like cycling, archery, wheelchair basketball, aqua aerobics, kayaking, and sitting volleyball.

CPT Sarah Reynolds, WTB Assistant Operations officer, said, “They are exposed to each resource in hopes they can find out what fits them and benefits them the most. Then, we can continue to move them in that direction—perhaps get them into things like the Warrior Games or Ride2Recovery (a long distance cycling program).”

The first annual Warrior Games was held in May 2010 as a partnership between the Department of Defense and the U.S. Olympic Committee. The inaugural event brought about 200 injured, wounded and ill participants from the four military services to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs as guests of the USOC Paralympic Military Program. Warrior athletes earn medals in each event and compete to be the “Ultimate Warrior” in a pentathlon format. The military service with the most points takes home the Chairman’s Cup.

Fort Carson plans to train at least 30 Soldiers to compete in the next Warrior Games.

SFC John Oliver, WTB Operations Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC), added, “Even if they’re skeptical, they get in there and it’s a different experience. Competitive sports bring out the best in everybody. The ultimate goal is to change their frame of mind and get a positive attitude.”

In Fort Carson’s Garcia Physical Fitness Center, SSG James Mars’ colleagues were positive he wasn’t going to hit the target. His first arrow went wide, bouncing off the floor. Fabry showed the trainers some new techniques:  how to shoot for Soldiers without a limb, how to shoot from a wheelchair, and how to hold a bow if your hand won’t work. After enduring some teasing for his first shot, Mars hit the target.

Alpha Company squad leader SSG Muriel Droke said cadre try to show the Soldiers that trying new things and sticking with it is key.

“I like to lift weights. But after learning this stuff, I can do other things and see a difference and the Soldiers see that. Lead by example,” Droke said. “There’s no such thing as you can’t do it. There is always an alternate way.”

Mars added, “Its one step to help with other obstacles in life. You just taught yourself this. Now why can’t you go to school? Why can’t you take a class?”

Local cadre said the Fort Carson WTB began their revised adaptive sports training at the company level this month. Each company will get two months worth of exposure to the sports. Cadre said the skills from this workshop will allow them to help further develop resilient Soldiers who can demonstrate and believe in the battalion’s new motto, “CAN DO.”

 

Commander’s Drumbeat: “Unlimited Potential,” a New WTC Video

By BG Darryl A. Williams, WTC Commander

CPT Juan Guerrero, poising here at the 2011 Warrior Games during the Ultimate Champion competition, is featured in the new video, “Unlimited Potential.”

In my time spent traveling to our Warrior Transition Units (WTU), I have the privilege of meeting our wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers who are working hard to regain their self-sufficiency and reshape their lives post-injury. It’s difficult to capture in words the work and spirit of our Soldiers and convey how they overcome obstacles large and small day after day throughout their recovery. But I’ve learned over the years, it’s always better to let a Soldier speak for him or herself.

I encourage you to meet some of the Warriors in Transition that I’ve gotten to know who are featured in the new WTC video, “Unlimited Potential.”

  • SFC John Wright puts things into perspective for many wounded warriors when he said, “You shook hands with the grim reaper and walked away from him.”
  • CPT Juan Guerrero, 2011 Warrior Games Ultimate Champion competitor, displays a defining trait of many Warriors in Transition—a great sense of humor. See his unique stretching techniques for running. I think about them as I warm up for PT.
  • CPT Jeremy McGuffey remains focused on his career during recovery and uses his time in a WTU to receive training to switch from Armor to become a Physician Assistant.
  • CTP Lisa Merwin, a cancer survivor, represents the drive and perseverance that is at the core of all Soldiers.
  • Retired SSG Joe Fowler came back after surviving severe burns to be an AW2 Advocate at Fort Carson to take care of the wounded who followed.

Great work is being accomplished at Warrior Transition Units by both the Soldiers and support staff. It takes a team to get the work done and turn an injury- or illness-limiting event into unlimited potential. I think SSG Gabriel Garcia summed it up best by stating, “My 75 percent is better than most guys 100 percent and that’s the way I live my life.”

 

Mental Resilience Helps Achieve Success

By Kaitlyn Donohoe, CSF-PREP Performance Enhancement Specialist

Comprehensive Soldier Fitness-Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program (CSF-PREP) performance specialist Kaitlyn Donohoe, works with Army track and field athletes at the 2011 Warrior Games.

The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness-Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program (CSF-PREP) educates and trains individuals on the behavioral skills that underlie human performance excellence. The program is designed to enhance personal and professional performances by developing the full potential of Soldiers, Family members, and Army Civilians. CSF-PREP accomplishes this by using a systematic process to teach and train the behavioral skills essential to the pursuit of personal strength, professional excellence, and the Warrior Ethos.

CSF-PREP education and training focuses on bridging the gap between the rehabilitation process and the Soldier’s transition back into the Army or civilian life by providing the knowledge and skills to craft their future. CSF-PREP teaches Soldiers the critical underlying skills needed to take ownership and control of their recovery, to focus on their abilities versus disabilities, and to provide the tools to help enhance their mindset so that they have a sense of purpose and are effectively motivated about their future.

In elite competition, such as the Warrior Games that took place last month, all athletes train to enhance their physical skills; what separates medal winners from the rest is mental strength. CSF-PREP trains the mental strength of individuals. In working with the Warrior Games athletes, we worked with individual athletes and teams to teach them the skills of our education model and the ways to apply them to their athletic performances. Each Soldier and Veteran who participated in the Warrior Games completed at least 16 hours of classroom education to learn and develop a foundational knowledge of the skills we utilize.

For the Warrior Games, I had the privilege to work with the Army track and field team. In addition to the general CSF-PREP training, I conducted another five hours of applied group training that was tailored to track and field events and team building. As a part of this training, each athlete created a mental performance plan for each event during individual or small group sessions.

With an individual sport like track and field, Soldiers athletes need to focus on the right thing and manage their nerves and energy to have optimal performance. For example, I worked with a Soldier for several weeks before the Warrior Games began. He was excited to have the opportunity to compete again, as he had not played sports competitively since high school, but was worried about how he would perform in such a highly visible event.

This sense of discouragement can negatively influence one’s performance. Before the Games, I discussed with the Soldier about the influence of a positive attitude on performance and how focused attention and energy on factors within one’s control has power over one’s performance. We also worked to create tangible goals for competition and plans for how to achieve them and help achieve a greater sense of control.

When we first arrived at the Warrior Games training camp, the Soldier had a more effective attitude toward his performance. Throughout the training camp, we finalized his individualized mental training plan to focus on imagery, pre-performance routines, refocus techniques, and recovery techniques. We worked to maintain focus amidst distractions and set the conditions for success, regardless of the circumstances that may try to get in the way of optimal performance. At the Warrior Games, this Soldier effectively applied the mental skills we discussed to his physical skills and techniques and earned a silver medal for the Army team.

The journey to obtain mental strength for life is a continuous process and is unique to every individual. To share in this collective journey of personal growth with the warrior athletes, cadre, coaches, medical staff and other CSF-PREP performance specialists was a priceless and tremendously gratifying experience. I can honestly say I have the best job, because I had the honor to work with the men and women who gave so much to defend our nation and our freedom.

Editor’s Note: Kaitlyn Donohoe has a background in Sport Performance Psychology and has a Master of Science from Miami University of Ohio in Sport Psychology. She has several years of experience working with athletes and individuals to enhance performance through mental skills training.

A Reflection on Warrior Games

By SFC Ronald Black, Warrior Games Track and Field Team Squad Leader

Warrior Games track and field athletes and their event squad leader (from left to right) SGT Robbie Gaupp, squad leader SFC Ronald Black, SPC Stuart Lancaster, and CPL Quintarious Almon.

Warrior Games is a once in a lifetime experience. I was blessed to be able to attend the Games for a second year to cheer on the Army team. It was a privilege to be among wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans who gave significant sacrifices for our freedom. It was a proud feeling.

Being part of Warrior Games was exciting, especially for track and field, because I saw the competiveness in each Soldier when they were training and challenging each other. The motivation and the drive to push each other and themselves to the limit was so amazing to watch. Knowing I had a part in helping make this a reality for our wounded warriors was awesome.

Throughout the training week and the competition, I was at a loss for words. Seeing a few familiar faces from last year and hearing the guys talk about how they were going to beat the Marines and take it all was so great. I could feel the excitement. Knowing our wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans haven’t lost the will to compete and haven’t let their disability hold them back was astonishing.

I also noticed how everyone seemed to pick a battle buddy. This person became someone they could go to for their power or spiritual support.

As the battle rhythm began to kick in, the coaches helped the competitors become more focused, and the preparation from Kaitlyn Donohoe, the track and field performance enhancement specialist, and associated specialists was awesome. They pulled the team together when the athletes seemed to get out of sync and helped them stay focused.

In the final days of training it was like night and day. Our team was ready. I could see the seriousness on their faces and was just amazed. I was, and still am, proud to be a part of this team.

 

First Comes Training, Then Comes Competition

By LTC Jeanette Griffin, WTC Stratcom

SGT Ben Thomas after competing in the 100- and 200-meter wheelchair competition during the 2011 Warrior Games.

The sweat from the Soldier’s brow dripped down his forehead as he prepared for his turn at the start line. He knew he was ready. He would use the butterflies and nervousness to drive himself to the finish line.

SGT Benjamin Thomas, the only Army track and field 100-meter and 200-meter wheelchair competitor, was medically discharged from the Army in December 2006, after having his right knee reconstructed due to a basketball injury. Then in 2008, Thomas was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Although he slowly lost his mobility and began using a wheelchair, he did not let that stop his determination to compete in the 2011 Warrior Games.

“I decided to compete because I told myself that I can, plus I wanted to show others that I can still do the things I used to do.” Thomas said.

A week before the competition, 24 Soldiers trained to compete in the track and field events at the 2011 Warrior Games. Retired Army LTC Sue Bozgoz, the Army team’s track and field coach, was crucial to training this team for success.

“For many of my track and field athletes, these Games have become a part of their life, as well as mine,” Bozgoz said. “I can tell from talking with them that everything from their head to their soul has been filled with the Warrior Games spirit.”

Bozgoz, who has 54 marathons under her belt, knows plenty about coaching. Although she no longer runs marathons due to injuries sustained from a car accident, she trains military and civilian personnel and coaches international runners throughout the year.

“I have been here seven days watching our warriors train with passion and guts,” Bozgoz said before the track and field competition, held on the first day of the Warrior Games. “Whether they were running on the track or throwing the shot put in the field, they were training as a team with focus and drive.”

“In my mind, the 2011 Warrior Games is filled with champions with big hearts and solid drive,” she added. “Whether our warriors come in first, second, third or last, that’s part of the game, and we are all winners.”

Before arriving at Warrior Games, Thomas trained three days per week for one and a half hours per day. Just before the competition, he spent some time in Colorado Springs perfecting his form and technique, as well as adjusting to the altitude.

“My drive consists of my Family and showing others and myself that it can be done,” Thomas stated.

Thomas sees the Warrior Games as a stepping stone towards doing his best and believes in a positive attitude no matter what. His goal is to remain healthy. Currently, his multiple sclerosis is in remission.

“Don’t say ‘can’t’ because you put a handicap on yourself,” Thomas said. “Never say ‘never’ because that shows you are quitting.”

Helping Thomas and other competitors is Millie Daniels, a 10-year high school track and field coach from Bedford, VA. She was selected as one of the assistant coaches for the Warrior Games and helped the field participants train for their event. “Helping to train these athletes has been an opportunity of a lifetime,” Daniels said. “I am glad I was invited to assist with the track and field events.”

After the Warrior Games, many of the track and field athletes and coaches will continue to add to their track and field repertoire.

“I plan to continue coaching and training a group of world class elite international runners,” Bozgoz said. “I have also accepted the challenge to train the first-ever Warrior Transition Command team as they prepare for this year’s 2011 Army Ten-Miler.”

Now that the Warrior Games are over and the winners announced, the journey home proved to be the final highlight because the world now recognizes these warriors as not just wounded, but as remarkable athletes.

The Army brought home 15 medals in track and field: 2 gold, 4 silver, and 9 bronze.

And the Winner is…

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom

During the 2011 Warrior Games closing ceremony, the color guard entered the ceremony and proudly held the flags of the military branches during the playing of the national anthem.

The 2011 Warrior Games came to a close May 21 at the Air Force Academy with the Marines being presented with the Chairman’s Cup. Although the Army team did not win the official, coveted cup, they did a great job of capturing 41 medals throughout the competition.

The closing ceremony included Army Chief of Staff GEN Martin Dempsey speaking to the athletes and praising them for their efforts during the game, throughout recovery and training, and in overcoming their disabilities to become an inspiration.

“Every one of you is an inspiration,” Dempsey said. “You all incorporate the Army’s warrior ethos of I will never quit. I will never accept defeat. I will never leave a fallen comrade.”

The Army’s athletes were strong contenders, and gave the Marines, Air Force, combined Navy-Coast Guard Team, and the Special Operations Team tough competition.

Regardless of event, injury or illness, the Army athletes gave it their own, never quit, and completed the games with the following final medal count:

Gold: 9

Silver: 13

Bronze: 19

Although the Army may not have won the Chairman’s Cup, they are all winners and I congratulate all of the medal winners and participants. Your hard work and training made the 2011 Warrior Games a great success.

 

It Feels Right

By Jim Wenzel, WTC Stratcom

GEN Martin Dempsey, Chief of Staff of the Army, addresses the athletes at the 2011 Warrior Games Awards Ceremony.

The 37th Chief of Staff of the Army GEN Martin Dempsey spoke Saturday night at the Air Force Academy’s Clune Arena at the 2011 Warrior Games Awards Ceremony. His message resonated with the athletes and other servicemembers as well as the public attending the ceremony as he shared the words: “It feels right.”

Dempsey highlighted many areas that capture the “rightness” of the event and what it means to the military community. It feels right to have wounded, ill, and injured athletes come together to compete at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. It feels right that “Corporate America” sponsors like Deloitte, non-profits like the United Service Organizations, and government organizations like the city of Colorado Springs contributed both financially and through the organization of volunteers to help make the competition happen.

Sharing the past two weeks with the Soldiers and Veterans who competed at the Warrior Games, I wholeheartedly agree with the general. It is right to gather these wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans together in a spirit of competition and the brotherhood and sisterhood of arms. All of the Soldiers and Veterans I had the pleasure of speaking with, expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to participate. They also explained to me the honor and humility they felt in the presence of other warrior athletes who shared in their experience.

Although each athlete has his or her own unique story, there are common themes interwoven between all of them. The beginning of each story may be uniformly tragic, but these stories unfold and fill with hope and positive circumstances as these Soldiers and Veterans learn to reshape their lives. Their minds and bodies changed, but the will that drives them to succeed, overcome, and persevere remains strong.

These athletes are, as Dempsey concluded in his remarks, “all heroes.” Having gotten to know several of the athletes over the past two weeks, I can safely conclude that the sound of this word is unusual and uncomfortable to most of them. In fact, I know that most of them would simply shrug it off and say they were only doing their job.

This discomfort and denial is as right as the Warrior Games itself. Heroes don’t take the title for themselves, it is given to them by those who watch and judge their actions. As much as they would like to cover their amazing performances, their indomitable will, and the strength of their character with a job description, no one in the Clune Arena was buying it.

We saw them in action and judged for ourselves. The courage, fortitude, and esprit de corps on display left no doubt that we were in the presence of heroes. As representatives of all wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers we could not have asked for better than those who made the journey to Colorado Springs this year.

As the torch was extinguished over the 2011 Warrior Games, I know many of the wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers left the arena plotting their next move. Some will return next year for the 2012 Warrior Games, perhaps others will try for a spot on the United States Paralympic team, and many will apply their drive to succeed to some other worthy goal in their lives.

Wherever they go and whatever they do, I know the memory of these Warrior Games will remain with them and with us as a shining example of the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity. Congratulations to all the Soldiers and Veterans who participated and represented the Army and I hope to see you again next year.

 

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