Warrior Showdown Begins

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

Members of Army Platoon 1 stand for the National Anthem before the sitting volleyball competition begins.

Members of Army Platoon 1 stand for the National Anthem before the sitting volleyball competition begins.

The competition has begun! You can feel the excitement pulsing throughout the Olympic Training Center.

At last night’s sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball games, the crowd’s deafening roar gave the players a burst of energy, especially as the Army and Marines battled for the match point in sitting volleyball, where three Army teams played against each of the other services. As Army Platoon 3 took on the Marines, the dozens of Army teammates were quite a site in their black uniforms—crowding the court and chanting “Ar-my, Ar-my, Ar-my” in deep voices to drown out the Marines as the score see-sawed back and forth. 22-23, 25-24, 26-27…volleyball requires that teams win by two points. Though the Marines finally won 30-28, everyone in the gym knew that Army Platoon 3 left it all on the court.

Perhaps most inspiring is the spirit of cooperation among athletes. I attended the track and field practice yesterday morning, and there was something special about seeing athletes help their competitors with form and technique. Sailors showed Soldiers tips for pushing off the blocks in the sprinting events, and Soldiers returned the favor as Ultimate Champion candidates explained the benefits of a small hop in the shot put ring.

I also caught up with AW2 Soldier SFC Justin Widhalm as he chased his 2-year-old son around the volleyball arena after his game. SFC Widhalm is expecting 15 Family members to join him for the Warrior Games this week, from as far away as Nebraska.

“It means a lot to have them able to see me compete. Mostly because they, including my spouse, never thought I would play sports again,” said SFC Widhalm after his volleyball game against Air Force. “It was good to get the competitive juices flowing…being on a team with so many different injuries—amputations, TBIs, and others—helps you realize how much all the athletes have overcome.”

Shooting practice was another highlight of my day—I was surprised at how quiet it was in the indoor range. Several athletes showed me stacks of their targets. You could see straight through them! They’d hit the bull’s-eye on every single one.

Today’s competition will be even more exciting, with the full archery competition, swimming preliminaries, and another round of volleyball and basketball.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Embracing Ability Over Disability – Warrior Games Begins

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

Army Athletes march down the Olympic Path during the opening ceremonies of the Warrior Games.

Army Athletes march down the Olympic Path during the opening ceremonies of the Warrior Games.

Yesterday I had the honor of watching our Soldiers participate in the opening ceremonies of the inaugural Warrior Games.  I could not have been more proud of our men and women as they marched down the Olympic Path amidst hundreds of cheering supporters.  The Mounted Color Guard and Honor Guard from the 4th Infantry Division represented the Army well as they carried the U.S. Flag and flags from each of the services down the Olympic Path.

The torch relay was particularly inspiring as athletes from each of the Services passed the torch off but continued together toward the Warrior Games cauldron.  The torch was finally passed to Roger Staubach, who lit the flame.  This moment—when athletes from each of the services arrived at the end of the Olympic Path together—exemplified the spirit of these games.  At that moment it was not a Soldier, a Sailor, an Airman, a Marine, and a Coast Guardsman standing at the base of the cauldron.  It was five athletes who, through determination and a desire to embrace their abilities, personified the American spirit.

Warrior Games athletes from each of the services passed the torch to ultimately light the Warrior Games cauldron, which will burn throughout the week.

Warrior Games athletes from each of the services passed the torch to ultimately light the Warrior Games cauldron, which will burn throughout the week.

As I told these athletes, their job does not end with the Warrior Games or with their own recovery.  Their job is to take the Warrior Games spark back to their units, to other wounded warriors and inspire them to move forward with life.   The job of these athletes is help others embrace and maximize their abilities.

To all the Warrior Games athletes—I look forward to watching you compete.  To all the Army athletes—go at this with all you have, don’t leave an ounce of energy unused, take no prisoners.  I look forward to seeing Soldiers on the medal stands.  Hooah!

Community Support is Critical

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

The Warrior Games are about to start and I can’t wait to see our athletes, especially our Army athletes, compete. While most of the attention will be focused on these athletes, and rightfully so, I don’t want to overlook a key component of the Warrior Games—community support.

I encourage everyone in the Colorado Springs area to come out, watch the Warrior Games, and get to know the athletes. Behind every athlete is an inspiring story and there will be lots of great competition to see. If you can’t be here, follow all the action on the U.S. Paralympics website.

We would not be able to have the Warrior Games without the outstanding support we’ve received from the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Colorado Springs community as a whole. Thank you to all who have helped and will help with the Warrior Games.

I would also invite you to learn more about how, through our Community Support Network, local communities like Colorado Springs can help support our wounded warriors all across the country. The AW2 Community Support Network exists to connect the Army’s most severely wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families with caring organizations that can help them transition to life post-injury. I encourage you to visit the website and discover all the ways you can help a wounded warrior.

AW2 Soldiers Competing in Warrior Games Find Success by Continuing their Active Service

SGT Robert Price received Warrior Games marksmanship instruction at the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, Fort Benning

SGT Robert Price received Warrior Games marksmanship instruction at the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, Fort Benning

By Jim Wenzel, WTC Stratcom

 

Wounded Soldiers from across the country will soon be arriving at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, CO, for the Warrior Games. Not content to simply overcome individual challenges of healing and recovery, these Soldiers are hungry to test themselves and represent the Army in the competitive arena. For some AW2 Soldiers, their participation reflects their desire to look forward to future goals and challenges beyond recovery. Many of them share a common goal—to continue on active duty in the Army (COAD), or Army Reserve (COAR).

SGT Robert Brown became an AW2 Soldier after sustaining injuries during enemy contact in Iraq that required the amputation of his right leg below the knee. He has been approved to continue his active career and is now a competitor in the Warrior Games. He will compete in the ‘Ultimate Warrior’ pentathlon and as a member of the Army 200 meter free swim relay team. His goal is to use the Games to test himself as he prepares for the U.S. Paralympic Games.

Wounded by shrapnel during Operation Iraqi Freedom, SGT Lilina Benning now spends many hours a week preparing for the compound bow portion of the archery event, the standing shot put, and as a member of the Army sitting volleyball team. She is an AW2 Soldier approved to COAD and feels strongly that her training for the upcoming Games helps as both physical and occupational therapy.

Also making the journey to Colorado will be SGT Robert Price. He was hit by an IED in January 2007 and the wound to his right leg required amputation below the knee. SGT Price is an AW2 COAD Soldier competing in the 10 meter air rifle (prone), archery (compound open), and sitting volleyball events. He has been actively shooting for three years and recently trained with the United States Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning. Ultimately his goal is competing in the 2012 Paralympic Games.

In the face of adversity, these Soldiers have chosen to accept the challenge of top-level competition. Their selection to COAD and compete not only opens up the possibility of victory at the Games, but also future success through their active service and perhaps a journey that may lead some to the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

Other AW2 COAD Soldiers going to Warrior Games include: WO1 Johnathan Holsey, SGT Michael Lukow, SFC Andrew McCaffrey, SSG Eric Moriarty, SFC Landon Ranker, and SSG Curtis Winston. For more information about eligibility and application to COAD/COAR go to the AW2 website here. To follow the May 10-14 Warrior Games, check the AW2 Blog often—our team will be blogging from the OTC all week!

AW2 Weekly Digest April 12-23

  • AW2 Veterans Juan Arredondo, Bryan Hinojosa, Brian Neuman, and Michael Schlitz and AW2 Soldiers SGT Robert Brown and MAJ David Underwood, featured in Army News, encouraged paratroopers to help stop Soldier suicides.
  • AW2 Soldier SPC Charles Berninghausen was featured in a 9 NEWS article about the assistance he received from AW2 and Freedom Service Dogs.
  • AW2 Veterans Heath Calhoun and Melissa Stockwell, featured on DCmilitary.com, were special guests at a showing of ‘‘Warrior Champions, From Baghdad to Beijing,” at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
  • AW2 Veteran Heath Calhoun, featured on Whowon.com, unveiled the official race logo on the pace car, took some laps, and participated in media interviews for the The Heath Calhoun 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race.  He is also featured in a Defense News article Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates hosting the Paralympic Team at the Pentagon.
  • BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander, was featured in Defense News discussing Warrior Games and in the Fort Hood Sentinel discussing Ride 2 Recovery.
  • AW2 Soldier SSG Leon Cooper, featured on DCmilitary.com, helped their fellow warriors and others evacuate the building and prevented anyone from being injured during a fire at Walter Reed.
  • AW2 Soldier MAJ Tammy Duckworth, featured in Lahontan Daily News, shared a powerful message about her personal quest for success as a Veterans advocate at the third annual Nevada Women Veterans Summit. She was also featured in DOD “Wounded Warrior Diaries.”
  • AW2 Soldier SGT Andrew Eads, featured on KMEGTV14, was offered an all-expenses-paid hunting trip from a group of Nebraskans.
  • AW2 Veteran Nicholas Ebbinghaus was featured in Building Strong ® in an article about AW2 Advocate Joyce Garrett providing career assistance and his new career opportunity.
  • AW2 Soldier SGT Derrick Ford and his Family, featured on DCmilitary.com, are learning to adjust to a ‘new normal’ off Walter Reed.
  • AW2 Veteran Steve Holloway was featured in WPTV for receiving a specially adapted home from Homes for Our Troops.
  • AW2 Veteran Nathan Hunt was featured on the Pentagon Channel on April 12 in a story about wounded warriors participating in a Ride 2 Recovery event. He is also slated to receive a specially adapted house according to PR Newswire.
  • AW2 Soldier SGT John Hyland, featured on Motorsport.com, been selected to sing the national anthem for Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on May 30.
  • AW2 Veteran Matthew Lammers was featured in an Action 3 News and KTRK article for receiving a specially adapted home from the HelpingaHero.org Home Program.
  • AW2 Soldier SGT Daniel Lopez, featured in Peninsula Warrior and WAVY-TV 10, will participate in the Warrior Games.
  • AW2 Soldier SPC Brendan Maracco featured in 1010 WINS, the Staten Island Advance, and the New York Daily News, will receive a specially adapted home from his community.
  • AW2 Veteran Ryan Newell, featured in Army Times, will receive a specially adapted house from Homes for Our Troops.
  • AW2 Soldier SFC Josh Olson, featured in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, provided expert instruction to wounded warriors to help them prepare for the Warrior Games.
  • AW2 Soldier SPC Ryan Price and his spouse Terry, featured in San Diego News, received a wedding to remember from his community.
  • AW2 Veteran Edwin Salau, featured in the Jacksonville Daily News, participated in a weekend in New York City for intensive training and mentorship on making a fresh career start in the civilian world.
  • AW2 Veteran Craig C. Smith, featured in Defense News, is training for next month’s inaugural Warrior Games.
  • AW2 Soldier SPC Branden Stackenwalt, featured in the Rapid City Journal, will receive a specially adapted home as part of Operation Opening Doors.
  • AW2 Soldier SGT Matt Williams was featured in Medical Device Daily in an article about controversial treatment for TBI and PTSD.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

Wounded Warriors from Walter Reed Ready to Fight For the Title of ‘Ultimate Warrior’

SGT Rob Brown practicing shot put

SGT Rob Brown practicing shot put

By Jim Wenzel, WTC Stratcom

 

SGT Robert “Rob” Laux and SGT Robert “Rob” Brown may be recuperating and healing from injuries they sustained in combat, but that won’t stop them from returning to battle with wounded warriors from the Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard at the 1st Annual Warrior Games to be held at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, CO, on May 10–14, 2010.

SGT Laux and SGT Brown have chosen to compete in the “Ultimate Warrior”, a pentathlon consisting of two track events, 50 meter free swim, 10 meter air rifle, and shot put. Even though both will be competing for the Army team, the joking and conversation at shot and discus training Tuesday, April 20, demonstrated a fierce competitiveness that comes with the understanding that only one soldier, sailor, airman, or marine can be the Ultimate Warrior.

SGT Laux and SGT Brown’s training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center will soon wind down as competitors leave for the OTC on May 5, and begin the final stage of preparation at the far more demanding height of 7,000 feet above sea level. In the Walter Reed auditorium that afternoon, the athletes were reminded of the harsh role altitude will play by Charlie Hubner, Chief of Paralympics, U.S. Olympic Committee and leader of a delegation of Olympians and Paralympians from Beijing and Vancouver Games.

During the USOC presentation, the Warrior Games athletes previewed “Warrior Champions”, a movie about the inspiring story of four wounded Iraq war Veterans who overcame their injuries to compete at the 2008 Summer and 2010 Winter Paralympic Games. Melissa Stockwell, a U.S. Paralympic Team swimmer, and Heath Calhoun, a world-class U.S. Paralympic Team skier, also spoke about the power of healing through sports and their journey from rehabilitation at Walter Reed to the Olympic stage.

Heath, who was chosen to carry the U.S. flag at the Vancouver Opening Ceremonies, said during difficult periods of recovery, “50% of getting there is taking the first step.”

These powerful words of encouragement from former Soldiers who suffered combat-related injuries requiring the loss of one or both legs and went on to realize their dreams of Olympic competition could not have come at a better time for these Warrior Games athletes. Perhaps the Games will lead some of them down a similar path to the London Paralympic Games of 2012 or inspire them to achieve other life goals inside or outside of the sporting arena. Certainly for SGT Laux and SGT Brown it has steeled their resolve to become the Warrior Games 2010 Ultimate Warrior.

Warriors in Athletic Competition

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

I recently had a chance to sit down with The Pentagon Channel and talk about Warrior Games (click here to read the interview). Over the last few weeks I’ve been visiting our Warrior Games athletes around the country to get their feedback on the Warrior Games. The feedback from Army athletes has been very positive and I have come away with the knowledge that these men and women are both inspired by the upcoming competition and serve as inspiration to other Soldiers. The Warrior Games is a great and challenging athletic event. The Warrior Games is about your abilities, not your disabilities. May the best athletes win!

AW2 Veteran Participates in USA Hockey Disabled Festival

By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom

AW2 Veteran Joe Bowser playing hockey.

AW2 Veteran Joe Bowser playing hockey.

AW2 Veteran Joe Bowser is a member of the U.S. Stand-Up National Amputee Hockey Team, and he and his team participated in the USA Hockey Disabled Festival in Maryland recently. The Festival encompassed all four disciplines of disabled hockey, including deaf/hard of hearing hockey, special hockey, sled hockey, and standing/amputee hockey. A total of 50 teams competed in the event in nine divisions with athletes of all ages. I was able to ask him a few questions about his thoughts on the festival.

Who did your team play against? How was the game?

We played against the USA Warriors team made up of wounded warriors from Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC). It was a tough game, but our team [the National team] was able to overcome the Warriors. The Warriors played together really well—they are very talented. We also played against the Canadian Embassy Team, and the Canadians won that game by two.

Did other wounded warriors play hockey during the Festival?

The USA Warriors from WRAMC played the San Antonio Rampage [wounded warriors from Brooke Army Medical Center]. It was great to see these Soldiers play in this game and have fun. I think sports provide wounded warriors with great exercise and lets them see the things they can do instead of what they can’t do. Congrats to the Rampage for winning that game.

What other games did you enjoy seeing at the Festival?

It was really cool to see children and young adults with disabilities out there on the ice. I love seeing their excitement to go out there and utilize what they have—capitalize on their abilities. It is the same thing with us [wounded warriors]. I look forward to doing it again next year!

Watch the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games Highlights on NBC

AW2 Veteran Andy Soule skis to a bronze medal at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.

AW2 Veteran Andy Soule skis to a bronze medal at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.

By Sarah Greer, Stratcom

 

Tomorrow, NBC is broadcasting a highlights show of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games from 3:30 – 5:00pm EST. As a big fan of the Olympics in general, I’m excited to see footage of the amazing American athletes from Vancouver.

During the show, I’ll particularly be watching for the two AW2 Veterans: Heath Calhoun and Andy Soule. You can read more about their experience on BG Gary Cheek’s blog for the Warrior Transition Command. Heath was elected by his teammates to carry the U.S. flag during the Opening Ceremony and competed in alpine skiing. Andy won America’s first medal of the Games, a bronze in the men’s sitting 2.4km pursuit biathlon.

I hope you will also tune in and enjoy the coverage.

AW2 Weekly Digest March 29-April 2

  • AW2 Soldier SPC Jake Altman, featured in Stars and Stripes, found new freedom in scuba classes.
  • AW2 Veterans John Barnes and John Felix, featured in DOD News, participated in the 24th annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
  • AW2 Soldier 1LT Brian Brennan, featured in The Tampa Tribune, participated in the Honda Grand Prix 5-kilometer road race.
  • AW2 Veterans Heath Calhoun, Robert Canine, Nathan Hunt, Wesley Leon-Barrientos, Ryan Newell, and Joshua Wells, featured on PR Newswire, will receive specially adapted houses from a nonprofit.
  • AW2 Veterans Heath Calhoun and Andy Soule were mentioned in a DOD News article about the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic providing disabled Veterans a pathway to the Paralympics.
  • AW2 Veteran Heath Calhoun, featured on the NASCAR Web site, was selected as the namesake for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and will serve as Grand Marshal on May 1.
  • AW2 Soldier CPT Ivan Castro was featured on the Realneo Web site in an article about blind faith and determination.
  • BG Gary Cheek, Warrior Transition Command Commander, and AW2 Soldier LTC Greg Gadson and AW2 Veteran Nathan Hunt, featured in Business Wire, participated in the 2nd Annual Texas Challenge.
  • AW2 Advocate Christine Cook and AW2 Veteran Aubrey Jollotta were featured in a KUNC Community Radio article about the support he received from AW2 and National Organization on Disability.
  • AW2 Veteran Larry Henderson was featured in the News Herald in an article about writing a book providing an outlet for what he was feeling.
  • AW2 Soldier 2LT Richard Ingram, featured in DOD News, is an inspiration for a couple running a synchronized 50-mile run.
  • AW2 Veteran Toby Montoya was featured in the South Town Star in an article about his injury, recovery, and hopes to help other injured Soldiers.
  • AW2 Veteran Ryan Newell, featured in The Kansan, was selected by a national nonprofit organization to receive a new house.
  • AW2 Soldier SFC Josh Olson was featured in a MSNBC series on a prosthetic team’s efforts to help victims of the Haiti earthquake.
  • AW2 Veteran Andy Soule was featured in Yahoo! News article about the Paralympics going back to its military roots.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

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