CBWTU-FL Soldiers Celebrate NBA All-Star Weekend and Celebrate Black History Month with Legends of Basketball

Six wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans from Community-Based Warrior Transition Unit-Florida (CBWTU-FL) along with SGT Brice Hamilton (WTC) pose with retired NBA player Dikembe Mutombo during the National Basketball Retired Players Association's (NBRPA) Legends Celebration in Orlando, Florida.

By LTC Jeanette Griffin, WTC STRATCOM
During All-Star weekend, six wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans  from Community-Based Warrior Transition Unit-Florida  (CBWTU-FL) were invited to take part in the National Basketball Retired Players Association’s (NBRPA) Legends Celebration at the Walt Disney Swan Resort, in Orlando, Florida.

The Soldiers were invited to several events; the welcome reception, the Hardwood Pioneers Reflect discussion panel, a fashion show, and other events.

The festivities kicked off on Friday, February 24, with a reception where Soldiers mingled with guests, enjoyed a variety of food, got autographs, and took photos with NBA legends and celebrities.

“These are memories of a lifetime” said SFC Harrison Waithaka, a Soldier assigned to CBWTU-FL, who sustained injuries to his back, shoulder, and stomach from a fall after exiting a helicopter in Iraq. “We are very appreciative of the Warrior Transition Command for coordinating CBWTU-FL’s participation in this event.”

CBWTU-FL Soldiers were given the red carpet treatment. Cameras clicked continuously as Soldiers, took a multitude of photos with various NBA legends, WNBA players, and celebrities.

“They enjoyed a day full of notable NBA retired players—Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Erving “Magic” Johnson, Dominique Wilkins, and David Robinson” said SGT Brice Hamilton, who serves in WTC’s Adaptive Reconditioning Branch.

Five wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers from the Community-Based Warrior Transition Unit-Florida (CBWTU-FL) pose with Women’s Basketball League (WBL) Women's Pro Legend (Susan Summons) pictured middle and (Kiara Redman) her personal assistant during the National Basketball Retired Players Association's (NBRPA) Legends Celebration in Orlando, Florida.

Coach Charlie Hatcher, co –host of Sports Inside and Out radio show, legendWali Jones, and Women’s Basketball League (WBL) legend Susan Summons hosted a live radio broadcast that included interviews with retired NBA legends Dale Ellis of the Boston Celtics, Lucius Allen of the LA Lakers,  and Dick Barnett of the New York Jets.

Later that evening, when I did not think that the events could get any better, the Soldiers were able to participate in the Hardwood Pioneers Reflect discussion panel, where NBRPA paid tribute to its members and discussed the impact African Americans have on the game of basketball as part of the celebration of Black History month.  Panelist included NBA legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Earl Lloyd the first African American to ever play in an NBA game, and Dr. Richard A. Lapchick.

“The NBRPA Legends All-Star Celebration was amazing,” said Summons. “It’s so important to remember the sacrifice that former professional players made that are now legends of the game and sport, both men and women.”

“Our servicemen and servicewomen have made sacrifices to keep America safe.” I was honored to be a member of the U.S. Army, and I am proud to be a part of the historical movement of sports legends that have helped to pave the way for future sports legends” said Summons. “The history of sports gives you a look into the future of sports.” Summons added. “Remember and recognize the history and the women and men who helped to create it.”

Soldiers sat stage-side at the fashion show and met celebrities in the Legends VIP Lounge.

The next day, Soldiers went to the NBA All-Star Jam Session where they took part in interactive basketball activities, skill challenges, and autograph signing sessions with NBA players and legends.

“The Soldiers were the celebrities,” said Hamilton.  “Many of them stated that last night was one of their best experiences ever.”

Military Spouse Employment Partnership Provides Tools for Connecting Spouses and Employers

By Jim Wenzel, WTC STRATCOM
As a military retiree and Army wife, Dr. Lillie Cannon is familiar with the job-seeking challenges faced by spouses.  There are over one million Active, Guard, and Reserve spouses, and 85 percent currently want or need work.  A common refrain of this young, predominantly female, and highly mobile demographic is, “Every time I move, I start all over again.”

Despite their high levels of resiliency, their desire to work, and an enhanced toolkit of skills based on their life experience, military spouses earn 25% less and transition 14% more often than their civilian counterparts.

Cannon talked to military, federal and corporate attendees at the Wounded Warrior Employment Conference  this week.  According to Cannon, in 2002, many servicemembers were leaving the military due to unhappiness on the part of their spouses.  The National Defense Authorization Act that year directed the establishment of a corporate partnership to enhance the employment of military spouses.    The Army Spouse Employment Partnership began with 13 companies willing to commit to hiring military spouses.

In 2011, the Army program expanded to include spouses of all uniformed services and was renamed the Military Spouse Employment Partnership.  It now partners with 95 companies, and it has helped more than 131,000 spouses find employment.

Cannon is proud of the work accomplished thus far. “Thirty-five percent of our partners have a wounded warrior program,” she said. “Some of the partners have hired wounded warrior spouses to run their regional programs.”

The partnership expects to add 50 new organizations by year’s end and recently launched a website, www.msepjobs.militaryonesource.mil, to facilitate the posting of spouse resumes and open positions of partner companies.  Though there is much left to be done, Cannon feels that helping the spouses of wounded Veterans find jobs is a responsibility shared by the military, federal, and corporate employers.

“I felt like it was something we needed to do as a nation to give back to our military spouses,” said Cannon. “I am very passionate about our program.”

As a military retiree and Army wife, Dr. Lillie Cannon is familiar with the job-seeking challenges faced by spouses.  There are over one million Active, Guard, and Reserve spouses, and 85 percent currently want or need work.  A common refrain of this young, predominantly female, and highly mobile demographic is, “Every time I move, I start all over again.”

Despite their high levels of resiliency, their desire to work, and an enhanced toolkit of skills based on their life experience, military spouses earn 25% less and transition 14% more often than their civilian counterparts.

Cannon talked to military, federal and corporate attendees at the Wounded Warrior Employment Conference[SG1]  this week .  According to Cannon, .  in 2002, many servicemembers were leaving the military due to unhappiness on the part of their spouses.  The National Defense Authorization Act that year directed the establishment of a corporate partnership to enhance the employment of military spouses. The Army Spouse Employment Partnership began with 13 companies willing to commit to hiring military spouses.

In 2011, the Army program expanded to include spouses of all uniformed services and was renamed the Military Spouse Employment Partnership.  It now partners with 95 companies, and it has helped more than 131,000 spouses find employment.

Cannon is proud of the work accomplished thus far. “Thirty-five percent of our partners have a wounded warrior program,” she said. “Some of the partners have hired wounded warrior spouses to run their regional programs.”

The partnership expects to add 50 new organizations by year’s end and recently launched a website, www.msepjobs.militaryonesource.mil, to facilitate the posting of spouse resumes and open positions of partner companies.  Though there is much left to be done, Cannon feels that helping the spouses of wounded Veterans find jobs is a responsibility shared by the military, federal, and corporate employers.

“I felt like it was something we needed to do as a nation to give back to our military spouses,” said Cannon. “I am very passionate about our program.”

CPT Alvin Shell Continues to Serve – Just in a Different Uniform

Retired Army CPT Alvin Shell was burned over 30 percent of his body as he rescued a fellow Soldier from a burning vehicle. He has successfully transitioned as a federal employee of the Dept. of Homeland Security and shared his story with the Wounded Warrior Employment Conference attendees at the Fort Belvoir Officer’s Club on February 28.

By Erich Langer, WTC Public Affairs
Retired Army CPT Alvin Shell has been overcoming obstacles all his life. Since being severely injured in Iraq in 2005, one would think that overcoming the big obstacles would be behind him.  For Shell, an Army Wounded Warrior Program  (AW2) Veteran, there were more obstacles to navigate.

With too many injures to count, his Family held vigil throughout his recovery, knowing he would wake from his coma, that he’d talk again,  walk again, and do much, much, more.

He had severe burn injuries over many parts of his body; broken bones and invisible behavioral health wounds.  It would be easy for someone in Shell’s place to take the easy road.  But for Shell, such a path was not part of his mettle.

“When I awoke from that coma, my Family was there; my mom, my dad and my wife were all with me.  I’ll never forget the first words out of my dad’s mouth. ‘Son, you’re a hero,’” he said.

Hearing Shell explain his injuries was difficult for many attending the Wounded Warrior Employment Conference hosted at the Fort Belvoir Officers’ Club. The skin grafting processes he routinely went through for more than two years was arduous—the excruciating and continuous pain he suffered was just as difficult.

“The doctors would remove my damaged skin and muscle tissue and then replace the burned skin with skin tissue harvested from other parts of my body” said Shell. “Doctors would remove the undamaged skin with a tool similar to a wood planning machine you’d find in a wood working shop. They’d take the ‘good skin’ and stretch it tight, then staple it to the area needing replacement skin.”

In many ways, securing employment was every bit as challenging as the recovery process.  Finding a job to support his Family was essential.  Shell attacked the employment process with gusto. “I filled out more than 100 federal job applications—I also got more than 100 rejection letters.”  The young man with a bachelor’s degree, an Army commission, a wife, three kids, and two dogs had no job.  After two years in Army hospitals, he was ready to show employers what he could do.

“I run four miles a day, don’t tell me what I can’t do!”

When hired at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there were more obstacles to maneuver. “I think when I was hired at DHS, people thought I would sit dutifully at my desk and folks in the agency would come by and express their appreciation for my service and my contribution to my country—that would be about it. Well, I’m not made that way; I had much more to contribute than sitting behind a desk and being recognized!”

Shell would get away from that desk, go to meetings, and ask questions, lots of questions, of his fellow DHS employees.   It wasn’t uncommon for Shell to invite himself to meetings and briefings where he served as a voice for wounded Veterans and their capabilities.

But obstacles persisted.

“I learned from my first-line supervisor that I wasn’t being considered for a position because I was blind, couldn’t run, and couldn’t shoot,” he said with a smirk. “I quickly put that to rest. I’ve got 20/20 vision in one eye and even better in the other. And running, well all that was required was completing a 1.5 mile run…I could do that without getting out of bed.”

By stepping up and making a strong case for himself, he soon found himself off to Georgia to attend federal law enforcement training. He graduated with high marks and for a guy who couldn’t shoot, he’d notch the class’s best shooting scores.

“I learned to shoot left-handed and qualified on the M-4 and nine millimeter pistol,” said Shell. “It is all about confidence in your abilities and in some instances retraining yourself.  I shot tops in my class.”

Now a supervisor at DHS, Shell has hired eight or nine individuals – 85% have been Veterans. Today, he has a better understanding of the hiring practices from the hiring managers’ perspective.

“I can’t be more proud of what all these folks at the Wounded Warrior Employment Conference are doing in the federal and civilian sector to hire wounded Soldiers and Veterans,” said Shell.  “I’m equally proud of what this conference can do for our service members and Veterans as they learn methods to make themselves more marketable and ultimately employable. I’m so proud of each and every one of you for assisting with employment.”

My father and grandfather were both Veterans, but programs like the ones we have today weren’t around then.  I never knew about all the initiatives available until I needed them,” Shell said. “I make it a point to encourage all Veterans seeking employment to learn as much as they can about a prospective employer.  Get on the phone and call all those 1-800 numbers at USA Jobs and talk to people. You’ve got to be persistent.”

He interviewed for his DHS job while he was recuperating in bed—he didn’t let that stop him.  Shell searched the Internet and learned as much about the agency, division, and branch, as well as supervisors and personnel that worked there.

“You have to be able to sell yourself. I told the three-person interview panel that I could do anything they wanted me to do in Homeland Security…I just didn’t know what they wanted me to do.”

Today, Alvin Shell knows what he is doing and is reaching out to Soldiers, Veterans and hiring mangers to assist all who need help getting a job or learning about the process.

Hats off to Shell and other passionate wounded warriors assisting their fellow comrades in arms.

Individuals Don’t Suffer From, but Live with PTSD and TBI

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom
“What do you think the most frequently requested accommodation is for people with disabilities in the workforce?” Lisa Stern, National Resource Directory, asked the employers during the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)/traumatic brain injury (TBI) recognition and response session at the Wounded Warrior Employer Conference.

“The most frequently requested accommodation for people with disability in the workforce as a whole is a flexible schedule. Does that really cost money? Not really,” Stern said. “Usually you get more out of people when you’re flexible then when you make them come from a certain time to a certain time.”

This was just one bit of information provided to the audience during this session by Stern and COL Irwin Lenefsky, Behavioral Health Consultant, Warrior Transition Command.

During the session, the two speakers reiterated that transition is not necessarily what it appears to be and explained how many people make assumptions about military members and disabilities.

According to Stern, it is important to determine the accommodations needed for success, because individuals live with PTSD instead of suffering from PTSD.

The back-and-forth informative session by the two speakers and the presentation showing some of the potential impact, symptoms, and additional ways to help wounded, ill, and injured Veterans adapt in their work environment provided valuable insight into people living with PTSD and TBI.

“PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder in the mental health realm,” Lenefsky said. “It is something that someone works through, throughout their life.”

Speakers asked if the audience had ever experienced some of the symptoms such as headaches, memory problems, or personality changes which can be experienced by individuals living with PTSD and TBI.

Many of them seemed to nod their heads up and down. Not that they thought they had PTSD or TBI, but the idea of understanding what some of the wounded, ill, and injured Veterans are living with on a daily basis, seemed to resonate with the idea that they cope with some of the same symptoms.

Before the end of the session, the ideas of flexible schedules, providing more or longer work breaks, providing additional time to learn new opportunities, provide job sharing opportunities if possible, and encouraging an employee to use a daily to do list or providing a daily list were a few examples of accommodations that may be overlooked with employing servicemembers or Veterans living with PTSD and TBI.

“It truly just takes one. One employer…one job…one Veteran,” Stern said. “Helping people understand this is the path to PTSD. It’s not the same for everyone.”

It’s about Hiring Noble, Dedicated Veterans

Marine Wounded Warrior Regiment Commander COL John L. Mayer motivates over 200 corporate and federal attendees at the Wounded Warrior Employment Conference at the Ft. Belvoir Officer’s Club on February 28. Military, federal, and corporate agencies are learning about the benefits and best practices of hiring wounded, ill, and injured Veterans.

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom
Today at the Wounded Warrior Employment Conference at Fort Belvoir, VA,, COL John L. Mayer, Commander, US Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, demonstrated his passion and dedication to helping inform employers from federal and corporate organizations about not only the Marines, but other service Veterans.

“These wounded warriors have heart and put their all into everything. We need to show them how much we care,” Mayer said. “These are American heroes, and they deserve the best we have to honor their service.”

Mayer’s message of hiring dedicated individuals who have served their country nobly regardless of service is what this employment conference is all about.

“We are talking about Americans who will bring the same type of spirit they brought to the battlefield and to the team, and bring it to your companies,” Mayer added. “They have already done the absolute, and they are looking for something that is noble, something that is a profession, a career that will meet with what they have already done.”

“These guys have fought together, sweated together, recovered together,” he continued. “Wouldn’t it be great to figure out a way to keep them as a team, and have them fight now in their careers and in their life as part of a team they are used to?”

“Let’s ensure we give them the very best this country can offer. It’s the least we can do,” Mayer said to end his speech which echoed the conference theme: Educate – Empower – Employ.

Network of Champions – Corporate Partners Promote the Hiring of Wounded Warriors

By Jim Wenzel, WTC STRATCOM
The Network of Champions, a consortium of corporations started in 2009 to share best practices in hiring wounded Veterans, is one of those rare examples of a need that has compelled often competing corporations to share information for the benefit of transitioning wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen.  It now boasts 90 companies that gather for bi-monthly meetings and an annual symposium.

To share lessons learned by the Network of Champions and to promote corporate hiring of wounded, ill, and injured Veterans, Kia Silver Hodge, the corporate manager for Northrup Grumman’s Diversity Recruitment Programs, was invited to the Wounded Warrior Employment Conference at the Fort Belvoir Officers Club February 28-29, 2012.

Hodge describes the start of Operation Impact as “one employee concerned about a neighbor who came back from Iraq severely wounded and having trouble finding a job.”  Deeply affected by the need of this neighbor, the employee decided to share that concern with a vice president of the company who in turn provided the support to change the idea into a successful hiring program.

Through the work of Operation Impact and the expanding Network of Champions, hiring managers have now started to identify key areas of improvement to facilitate the transition of wounded, ill, and injured Veterans into the corporate workforce.

The first challenge faced by corporate hiring managers is skill translation.  Often a military member has responsibilities and experience that meet or exceed the requirements of a corporate position; however, this is not clearly demonstrated by the unfamiliar acronyms, roles, and responsibilities listed on the Veteran’s resume.  The solution is education.

“Many of our people are very well intentioned. But when they look at the resume of a squad leader whose been in infantry and they’re applying for a logistics analyst position, sometimes they’re not able to connect the dots, through no fault of their own,” Hodge said. “But that’s why educating is so important. We have to train and educate the people that have the power to bring these wounded warriors in to see the hiring managers and get them jobs.”

Another challenge is the fear of accommodation.  Hodge spoke of a Veteran she had met the day before the conference “who said he didn’t know before today that companies would want him because he was a wounded Veteran.” The combination of a Veteran’s fear of asking for accommodation and a hiring manager’s inability to identify available accommodations can limit the hiring process.  As a result, wounded, ill, and injured Veterans lose the opportunity to apply for positions for which they are qualified given the right accommodation.   By educating both the Veteran and the hiring manager on common types of accommodation and how to negotiate them, the chances of placing qualified wounded, ill, and injured Veterans in available positions increases significantly.

Many of the lessons learned from trailblazing programs like Operation Impact and the Network of Champions are connected to an organization’s ability to generate internal advocates for hiring wounded, ill, and injured Veterans and maintaining a flexible attitude instead of a cookie cutter approach.  It is also necessary to educate hiring managers in military culture, skills, and likely accommodations that must be made to identify qualified Veterans and match them with available positions.

Hodge also offered a necessary and often overlooked element of hiring wounded, ill, and injured Veterans—getting the word out.   “Employers committed to hiring wounded warriors need to tell people about it” said Hodge, “Send an email to TAPS programs in the area.” Knowing this about an employer will encourage Veterans with the knowledge that the company will be more adept at matching opportunities with qualified Veteran candidates.

Hiring programs designed to hire wounded, ill, and injured Veterans are just starting to come online and effectively demonstrate their potential to match job seekers with available positions.  “It’s a work in progress, but it always will be that way,” said Hodge in summary, “I hope in time we will hire another 100 warriors or more.”  With the response of the over 200 federal and corporate entities in the audience, the growth of these types of programs and their future success is very high indeed.

Commander’s Drumbeat – A Call to Action

By BG Darryl A. Williams, WTC Commander
Today I challenged the 200 attendees at the Wounded Warrior Employment Conference to all hire five wounded, ill, or injured warriors and spouses during the next year.  I don’t care if they are Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard.  I want everyone to hire someone and then tell me what they did to make it work.

Kicking off this conference, I reminded everyone that this is a joint effort across all of the four service wounded warrior programs, as well as several agencies throughout the federal government.  This is the second year we’ve hosted this conference, and this year we invited members of the private sector to join this important conversation.

The employment of wounded, ill, and injured Veterans and spouses is not just about the individual services, individual agencies or individual companies who work on this issue. It’s about our Veterans.  Our theme for the next two days is Educate – Empower – Employ.  These align directly to my top three priorities at the Warrior Transition Command: education, training and employment.

Employment is a major focus during recovery and transition or our wounded, ill and injured population, not just for the Army, but for all services.  While Soldiers are recovering at our 29 Warrior Transition Units, we focus on preparing them for the next stage of their careers.

That’s where the more than 200 military, federal, and private employers here today come in.  We are all here because we are committed to hiring these Veterans and their spouses.  We already know that it’s an ongoing commitment – we can’t just hire one Veteran and check the box.  We have to commit to hiring many.

I know it’s difficult.  The resumes employers get often don’t align exactly with the positions available. There’s no standard definition of a “wounded warrior”.  Hiring managers need more information about behavioral health injuries, like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.  That’s what we’re here to work on over the next two days – to share some best practices and educate each other on the ways to make each wounded warrior hire a success.

We talk a lot about transition. When servicemembers become wounded, ill, or injured, we don’t just focus on their physical recovery.  It’s important that they heal physically, but we recognize that life is about so much more than that.

Very early on in the treatment process, we start talking to the servicemembers about what’s next.  About half of the wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers in the Army do go back to duty, whether in their old job description or something new.  And 50% leave the military and move on to the civilian world—and the other services also have significant numbers leaving the force after their recovery.  It’s that group that we’re really focusing on at this conference.

And it’s that act of going back to the force or onto civilian life that we talk about with the term “transition.”

I want to talk a little about what you “get” when you hire a wounded warrior.  These are people with strong personal integrity – used to living by a creed.  During their military service, they’ve developed strong leadership qualities and respect for diversity. They learn new skills and concepts quickly. They work well by themselves but they also know how to perform with a team. They’ve got a wealth of experience with new technology and globalization. They show up on time, and they respect procedures, rules, and accountability. They’re productive in a fast-paced, high-stakes environment. And perhaps most importantly, they’re resilient.  They’ve overcome incredible, life-altering physical and behavioral injuries that most of us can’t even begin to comprehend.  And despite all of that, they’re looking forward to tomorrow – to finding a job that will help them build a better life and provide for themselves and their Families.

When they transition to the civilian workforce, they’re overcoming some key challenges.  They’re rediscovering self-reliance, embracing a new identity, and looking for meaningful activity.  It’s a big change to put away the uniform and put on civilian clothes in the morning and navigate an entirely new set of expectations.

Over the next two days, we will meet several Families in Transition who are employment ready.  These are some incredible, resilient people who have been through a lot, and they’re ready to move forward with their lives.  We’ve also held a series of career workshops for local wounded warriors and spouses who are actively searching for employment – again these are from all four services.  All of the wounded Veterans and spouses attending this last workshop will also be in the networking session tomorrow afternoon with all of the potential employers here.

We’ve got a lot going on over the next two days.  The bottom line is about taking action.

Tomorrow afternoon the leaders of the service wounded warrior programs and the federal agencies who organized this conference will have a ceremonial signing of the Wounded Warrior Employment Community Covenant. This is about establishing a common understanding and commitment to take action—making the changes necessary to make a real difference in increasing the hiring of wounded, ill, and injured Veterans and their spouses.

I’m proud of the people gathered here and their commitment to our men and women in uniform. What we are doing here this week is important.  It’s about affecting real wounded warriors and Families.

Swimming for a Purpose

AW2 Veteran Michael Kacer pushes himself from the wall of the pool to start swimming the 50-meter backstroke. Kacer won silver in track and field during the 2010 Warrior Games and wants to compete in the 2012 Warrior Games in both swimming and track and field.

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom
All of the Soldiers and Veterans who attended the first Warrior Transition Command (WTC) swimming clinic at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in Bethesda, Maryland, on February 10-11 wore swim suits designed to help them move faster in the water.  For AW2 Veteran, Michael Kacer, his contact lenses were the accessory that enhanced  his swimming experience.

“I have like 14 different pairs of contacts,” said Kacer, who wore a light blue pair of contacts that matched the water in the WRNMMC pool. “I have a pair to match almost every outfit.”

Kacer deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 and sustained several injuries including a severed left arm, broken jaw, collapsed lungs, and three broken ribs from rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) missiles.  He was one of 60 Army Soldiers and Veterans competing for a spot on the Army’s team for the 2012 Warrior Games team that will take place in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 30 – May 5.

“I participated in the Warrior Games two years ago and won the silver in the 200-meter dash,” Kacer said. “I wanted to get back into the competition and try different fields and see if I can bring home some medals, and help out the Army team as much as I can.”

Like Kacer, this is not the first year for many of the clinic’s participants to compete in the Warrior Games. SSG Stefanie Mason and MSG Rhoden Galloway, both gold medal winners in swimming for the Army during the 2011 Warrior Games, attended the clinics for additional training as they hope to attend this year’s games.

Soldiers and Veterans participated in the first WTC swimming clinic at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland. Photo credit: SSG Emily Anderson

“I’m excited to compete in the games this year, if I am slected for the team.” Mason said. “It’s a wonderful program the military and the Olympic Committee put on. It helps the Wounded Warriors mentally and physically get better.”

However, there are a few new faces who have found this year’s games as  an opportunity to compete and  enjoy the camerderie during the swimming clinic.

“I had a broken neck, but now I’m off of profile and swimming has given me an opportunity to get back in shape,” said SPC Lacey Hamilton, who is currently recovering at the Fort Meade WTU. “I’m enjoying the camerderie during this clinic, because when you’re in a WTU, your focus is on healing and not necessarily on the camerderie.”

Retired SPC Robert Patterson of Phoenix, Arizona, who has a spinal cord injury from a motor vehicle accident in 1981, found out about the Warrior Games and contacted the WTC Adaptive Reconditioning Branch chief.

“I got pretty good at swimming and found out about Warrior Games, so I contacted LTC [Keith] Williams,” Patterson said. “I compete in triathlons and just wanted to try something different.”

“ I hope to compete in hand cycling events and the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle events,” he added. “I’m a little nervous, but hoping for the best. I plan to keep trying no matter what.”

This year’s Army athletes will compete against each other during the clinics before being considered for a spot for the Army’s Warrior Games team. For some, these clinics gave them a chance to really get a feel for competing against each other.

“I was asked if I wanted to try for the Warrior Games. I said I would try, but I’m not a great swimmer,” said SFC Daniel Arnette, who had brain surgery after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. “Swimming was my therapy when I was injured. I was used to swimming, but I had never done it competively before

“This clinic really helped. The coach and staff really helped me with my technique,” Arnette added. “Even if I don’t make the team, I know what I have to work on and will try again next year.”

The final qualification swimming clinic for the 2012 Army Warrior Games swim team will be held Friday, March 9.

Warrior Games Army Track and Field Coach: “We will Dominate!”

SPC Christopher Weber, assigned to the Fort Drum Warrior Transition Unit, competes in the 100-meter men’s open with a strong finish during the first WTC track and field clinic at Fort Belvoir's Pullen Field.

By LTC Jeanette Griffin, WTC Stratcom
Recently, more than 40 wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans traveled across the country to participate in the first WTC track and field  clinic in preparation for the 2012 Warrior Games.

During the three-day clinic held February 9-11  at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and Walter Reed National Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, coaches gave the athletes a baseline on how to perform their best during track and field as they competed to become one of the 50 athletes representing the Army in the 2012 Warrior Games, April 30 – May 5, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“Track and field  athletes must have the best-timed performances for the track events,” said Warrior Games Army track and field coach, retired LTC Sue Bozgoz. “Athletes competing in track must have the capacity factor [X-factor], meaning we want the runners who possess sufficient speed and endurance.”

“Athletes should be able to start, run the bends, straights, and pass the baton well,” she added. “They also need to possess a high degree of competitiveness.”

On the first day, competing athletes gathered at Fort Belvoir’s Pullen Field for a few administrative details, then divided into two groups. The first group assembled for the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 1500-meter dash events while the second group met on the field and demonstrated their ability to throw the shot put and discus.

Along with Bozgoz, members from her International Running Team, I Run for God (IR4G), an AW2 Community Support Networkorganization that helps AW2 Soldiers and Veterans in adaptive sports and recreational services, were at the clinic to help assess the athletes’ current levels of fitness, provide additional one-on-one training, and to pace and time the runners.

Eighteen wounded, ill, and injured, Soldiers and Veterans participated in the track portion of WTC’s first track and field clinic at Fort Belvoir's Pullen Field and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland.

“The coaches are great,” said

SPC Christopher Weber, a Soldier assigned to the Fort Drum Warrior Transition Unit, who sustained injuries to his back and left elbow during a dismounted patrol in Afghanistan. “They have given some great advice on how to train for track and field.”

Although the training, excitement, and camaraderie of the athletes seemed to overshadow the chilly temperature of 33°F, some Soldiers and Veterans were no strangers to training in cold weather.

“I have always enjoyed running and competed in track during high school,” said Weber who deals with the average Fort Drum daily high temperature below 37°F, he did not have difficulty competing at Fort Belvoir on a cold, sunny, and breezy day. “I want to win gold for the Army, so I plan to train five days a week, running short distances, and focus on running activities that increase my speed and endurance.”

“This clinic was inspiring. Everyone worked together as a team,” said Weber, who hopes to also be selected for the Army’s swimming team. “This was a great way to compete and meet new people.”

At Warrior Games, athletes from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Special Operations will compete for the gold in archery, cycling, wheelchair basketball, shooting, swimming, track and field, and sitting volleyball.

However, to qualify for the Warrior Games Army field team, athletes must throw either the shot put or discus the farthest distance.

“We have some phenomenal talent on the field team,” said retired CPT Millie Daniels, coach for the field events. “It will be really tough to narrow the team down to the top athletes for discus and shot put.”

In addition to track and field training events, athletes learned how to train the body for optimal performance by focusing on nutrition, physical fitness planning, mental toughness, spiritual, family, socialization, and teamwork.

“Are we going to win the most medals in track and field?” Bozgoz asked. “If we strategically place the right athletes in the right events, we will not only win the most medals, we will dominate!”


AW2 Veteran Trains for Warrior Games Gold

AW2 Veteran retired SFC Marcia Morris-Roberts (center) warms up with other shot putters and athletes at the Army’s Warrior Games track and field clinic hosted by WTC at Fort Belvoir on February 9.

By Jim Wenzel, WTC STRATCOM
Dressed in black sweats on a chilly February morning, retired SFC Marcia Morris-Roberts warmed up with more than 40 other Army athletes on  Fort Belvoir’s Pullen Field. As a medically retired AW2 Veteran she is vying for a spot on the Army’s track and field team to compete at the 2012 Warrior Games.

The Warrior Games is an annual all-service athletic competition for wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers. The event will take place at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Morris-Roberts hopes to build off of last year’s silver medal win in the sitting shot put event.  “Warrior Games is a great outlet,” she remarked, “It keeps you motivated, and I think it’s been very instrumental in my recovery.”

Her journey to the Warrior Games began in 2010 when she lost her left leg below the knee as a result of frostbite.

It was during her recovery that she learned about the 2011 Warrior Games, and represented the Army last year in both swimming and field events. Her participation led her to seek out other adaptive reconditioning activities such as racquetball and rollerblading. Now she is back once more to challenge herself and other wounded, ill, and injured athletes.

After a round of practice shots, Morris-Roberts slid off the metal bleacher  as the next athlete to throw. Her long sweats and smooth movement made her injuries virtually invisible, but that is not the way she likes it.

“I don’t like wearing pants because I have a lot of cool patches on my [prosthetic] leg,” she said. “I’m happy and I’m proud of myself, I couldn’t get any better than I am right now.”

One of her goals is to not only compete for herself, but to provide inspiration and motivation to other wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers.  Her infectious smile and can-do attitude will certainly bolster her teammates through the hard work ahead of this year’s competition.

As Morris-Roberts continues her journey back to Colorado Springs seeking Warrior Games gold it is easy to see her enthusiasm for the future and those who have helped her on the way. “We had a great team of people that banded together like brothers and sisters,” she concluded, “I owe it all to them because they never let me quit.”

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