By Jim Wenzel, WTC Stratcom
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.