Warrior Games Army Track and Field Athletes Take the Road to the Qualification Clinics

SSG Krisell Creager-Lumpkins, Warrior Transition Unit (WTU), Fort Carson and SPC Jasmine Perry from Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB), Fort Campbell along with more than 70 other wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans participated in the largest adaptive and reconditioning clinic hosted by the WTC at Fort Meade’s Mullins Field on March 8. Photo credit: retired LTC Sue Bozgoz

By LTC Jeanette Griffin, WTC Stratcom
On Thursday, March 8, unseasonably warm weather conditions accompanied the first day of competition for more than 45 wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans that participated in the track and field portion of the Warrior Transition Command’s (WTC) largest adaptive sports and reconditioning clinic at Fort Meade’s Mullins Field.  Athletes practiced and competed in the 100 meter, 200 meter, and 1500 meter dash track events, shot put, and discus field events in preparation for qualification rounds planned on March 10-11.

 “The first track and field clinic focused on timing each individual, capturing their biomechanics, and analyzing their athletic capabilities,” said track and field coach retired LTC Sue Bozgoz. “I made note of each individual athlete’s God given talent, then provided them with information on how to improve their performance prior to the final clinic.”

Track runners demonstrated that they had practiced and improved their running times, since the first clinic. Likewise, shot put and discus athletes showed that they had improved their form, technique, and ability to throw the shot put and discus.

“Thursday’s practice for athletes competing in the 100 meter and 200 meter dash included an 800 meter warm up, 4×50 meter sprints with 100 meter rest, followed by an 800 meter cool down,” said Bozgoz.  “Athletes competing in the 1500 meter ran a one mile warm up, 800 meter blow out, and a one mile cool down.” This was just the right amount of training to prepare for the weekend of competition and qualifications.

Warrior Games returning athlete, SPC Jasmine Perry, a Soldier assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Campbell, who won gold in the shot put event during the 2011 Warrior Games is very excited about competing in track and field and swimming.  “I believe that this year’s events are more competitive,” said Perry, “I hope to do my best and be selected to represent the Army during the 2012 Warrior Games.”

SPC Jasmine Perry from WTB Fort Campbell prepares to throw the shot put during a recent track and field competition. Perry won gold during the 2011 Warrior Games shot put field event and hopes to earn a spot on the Army’s 2012 Warrior Games team. Photo credit: LTC Jeanette Griffin, WTC Stratcom

“As a coach, my goal is to bring out a runner’s God given potential by giving them the tools they need to perform at their best,” said Bozgoz. “I am excited about the track and field qualifications. My greatest joy as a coach is helping runners reach the finish line.”  

At the 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.

“The planning and coordination for this event has gone well,” said SGT Brice Hamilton, of the Warrior Transition Command, Adaptive Sports and Reconditioning Branch.  “We were fortunate to have the assistance of the WTU, Fort Meade to assist with transportation of personnel and equipment and students from Defense Information School to assist as photographers, videographers, and timekeepers.”

After the competitions, athletes paused for a few moments to cool down, relax their nerves, and take a few minutes to reflect on the accomplishments made on the track and field.

The day ended with laughter, horse play, and all of the details on how the athletes received their scrapes and bruises. 

We had quite a day in the track and field competitions.

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.”

Sometimes You Have to Strip Off Your Uniform to Get Personal

By LTC Danny Dudek, WTC G-3 Operations

LTC Daniel Dudek, WTC G-3 Operations, applied to be on the 2012 Warrior Games Army swimming team. Dudek is one of more than 25 other wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans who participated in the swimming clinic to earn a spot on the Army's 2012 Warrior Games swimming team. Photo credit: SSG Emily Anderson

Today I get to ignore all the routine emails and work at the Warrior Transition Command (WTC) and do something I truly love.  I get to compete for a slot as one of 50 wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers on the U.S.  Army’s 2012 Warrior Games team.  I’m sure the competition is going to be tough, but I’ve been waiting two years to finally have the opportunity to get involved on a personal level.

This is going to be a great year for the Army and I’m sure we’ll show the Marines how dominant we can be. In addition to my role as one of these dominating Soldier athletes, I’ll also try to have some fun swimming and cycling for the WTC.   First I need to make the team, and this weekend will show if I have a shot  at one of those 50  slots.

As with many tasks in a Warrior Transition Unit (WTU), working with wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers can be a challenge. I always enjoy sharing my experiences with Soldiers who are hard-headed and struggle to participate in Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP) events. These events include having a daily job or task in addition to medical appointments, making a complete plan during a CTP scrimmage, and actively communicating in an honest and open way with their nurse case manager and squad leader.

I’ve seen these very same Soldiers turn around in a positive way after competing or participating in adaptive sports and reconditioning programs. It may be a kayak trip with a local adaptive sports organization, a winter sport camp with the great people at Disabled Sport USA, a cycling event with Ride to Recovery, or something as simple as participating in daily WTU adaptive reconditioning events.

For me, it is about remaining competitive. Though I’m either in a wheelchair or on crutches, all the barriers keeping me from getting out there and participating in sporting events are illusions, there are always ways to make it work. I can’t wait to get out there.

Stand by to hear if I make the team and get to represent the Army in the 2012 Warrior Games in April and May in Colorado Springs.

When Focusing on the Physical, Don’t Forget the Mental

January 13, 2012 – WTC’s first 2012 Warrior Games cycling clinic participants in San Diego, CA. From left to right, SSG Mario Bilbrew, Warrior Games Army cycling coach, SGT Jonte Scott, with service dog, Ava, SSG Vester (Max) Hasson, SGT Lester Perez, and SFC Jason Sterling.

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom
SFC Jason Sterling, SSG Vester (Max) Hasson, SGT Lester Perez, and SGT Jonte Scott, Soldiers in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Warrior Transition Unit thought they were attending the first Warrior Transition Command cycling clinic, in San Diego, California,  to learn how to improve their cycling skills, but their training  involved more than just the physical aspects required for Warrior Games competition..

“This clinic gave everyone a chance to see what they need to work on, physically and mentally,” said SSG Mario Bilbrew, the Warrior Games Army’s cycling event coach. “It’s good to see everyone taking this seriously and giving their all.”

The clinic is one of three scheduled for Army cycling athletes who want to compete in the 2012 Warrior Games. The athletes will have to qualify with the best timed cycling performances to be on the Army’s cycling team.

Dr. Shannon Baird and Kaitlyn Donohoe, performance enhancement specalists from the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness-Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program (CSF-PREP) were among the clinic’s attendees. CSF-PREP is an organization that provides education and training about mental and emotional strength building, and psychology techniques.

“Shannon and Kaitlyn explained to the athletes that it’s not just a physical performance, but also a mental competition,” Bilbrew said.

The specialists taught the clinic’s participants how to use words or phrases called cues to counteract negative thoughts and constantly reinforced the ideas of goal setting and positive thinking as the athletes practiced cycling skills and other specialized techniques.

“It’s important to interrupt ineffective thoughts. The training and tips we provide help with that,” said Baird. “This is the fuel that you need to feel inspired and gain energy.”

Baird and Donohoe taught an hour and a half class focusing on understanding the differences between skills, attitudes, and gifts.

Throughout the clinic, athletes were constantly asked questions such as “how would they like people to describe them” and “what is your goal for the day” to help them understand how to incorporate mental and emotional concepts and remain focused during the cycling competition.

“It’s necessary to set a goal each time, before you sit down on your cycles.  Ask yourself, what’s going to get me one step closer to this goal,” Baird added. “That will be what makes you stand apart. It’s a roadmap to success.”

Army Warrior Games Training Comes to Fort Bliss

January 13, 2012 MSG Fernando Verones, Army Shooting Team Assistant Coach, demonstrates how to shoot the air rifle during the WTC shooting clinic held at the University of Texas, El Paso. Clinic participants are vying for a spot on the Army's Warrior Games 2012 shooting team. Photo Credit: SGT Valerie Lopez

By SGT Valerie Lopez, Headquarters 1st Armored Division
Inhale… exhale, the sound of breathing in a small quiet room, inhale…exhale, then a sudden pop as the pellet is shot from an air rifle into the target. The room is filled with Soldiers taking their shots at the tryouts for the 2012 Warrior Games Army shooting team.

25 wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers gathered from different installations at Fort Bliss and El Paso to participate in the Warrior Transition Command (WTC) shooting training clinic from January 11-14.

“This is our very first of three shooting clinics for selecting the 2012 Warrior Games Army shooting team,” said MSG Howard Day, Army shooting coach and student at United States Sergeants Major Academy (USASMA). “We partnered with University of Texas El Paso and Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB, and representatives from Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) in order to make this clinic happen.”

The first Warrior Games was held in 2010, as an introduction to Paralympic sports for wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers and Veterans of all services: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Special Operations. During this year’s games, servicemembers and Veterans will compete in seven sports: archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball.

This year the Army’s shooting training camp was held at the University of Texas, El Paso’s (UTEP) ROTC building. The participating Soldiers and Veterans lodged in the Fort Bliss WTB Barracks.

“This year’s mission is to bring home the gold from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado”, said Day.

During the clinic, the organizers setup three stations:-mental, physical, and range practice.

In the mental station, Lindsay Holtz, Performance Enhancement Specialist assisted shooters to create imagery scripts to do mental practice when they don’t have a weapon.

“It’s like a movie script that you play in your head to  help you keep your patterns, muscles, and mind prepared for when you go back out there,” said Holtz.

UTEP women’s shooting coach George Brenzovich and student athlete Andrea Vautrin, exchanging ideas with the shooters on different ways to deal with anxieties and the pressures of competing. They also demonstrated alternate positions for shooting pertaining to each person’s disabilities or weaknesses.

The third station was an indoor air shooting range at the ROTC building where the participants practiced shooting and received instructions from coach Day, assistant coaches, and USASMA students MSG Fernando Verones, MSG Roger Lewis, and SGM Martin Barreras with the Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU).

“Despite their circumstances, these participants all come together to compete,” said Day.

One Soldier, SPC James Darlington, from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center WTB, at the young age of 19 was deployed with the 82nd Airborne when his group was hit with two rocket propelled grenades in July 2010, and his arm was struck. With nerve damage and muscle loss in his right arm, Darlington, now 21 years old, has his mom with him as his non-medical attendant.

“He did his job well,” said Gery Darlington, “because everyone came home from that deployment. He’s here alive, and we can deal with whatever happens with his arm.”

“The WTB has great programs to help Soldiers transition back to their units, and other activities to keep us from getting down,” said Darlington. “The shooting clinic helped us get better at shooting. I’m looking forward to getting on the team.”

The Soldiers’ injuries here run the full scope,” said Day, “from traumatic brain injury (TBI), to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to amputations. Many have multiple injuries and other medical conditions that challenge them.

SSG Tracy J. Smith, Alpha Company, CBWTU Georgia, Army National Guard with 48th Brigade, was deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan, survived mortar rounds, explosions, and firefights. Now battling TBI and PTSD, three pins in her knee and 50% hearing loss, Smith continues to stay active in everyday life.

“I was initially introduced to adaptive sports, and wanted to stay active and physically fit, so I did archery, seated shot put, track and field events, power lifting, and now marksmanship,” said Smith.

Smith said because of the TBI and the PTSD, she was at first nervous to handle a weapon, but after watching someone use the air rifle, it was not as “off-putting”. It was almost therapeutic.

“It’s almost a very easy reintroduction into the basics of Soldiering, but also very different from what we are taught in marksmanship,” said Smith. “I am doing this for those that can’t, for my battle buddy who is partly paralyzed and unable, because he would have if our situations were reversed.”

“Eighty-three Soldiers applied, and 75 were notified that they were eligible for these clinics,” said Day. “From these clinics, the best [shooters] will be put together to form our Army team.”

As a wounded Soldier himself, Day said it is vital for Soldiers to recognize that the injuries are not the end of their career and definitely not the end of possibilities in life.

“This is nothing but a speed bump, a simple turn in the road,” said Day. “There is a big bright future and lots of opportunities.”

For more information on the Warrior Games, visit http://usparalympics.org/military-and-veteran-programs/warrior-games-presented-by-deloitte

AW2 Soldier’s Sight Set on Gold

SGT Lester Perez started his cycling session with the arms-and-shoulder rotation, an exercise to prepare the upper body for physical activity, during the first Warrior Transition Command’s cycling clinic held January 13-14 in Coronado, CA. Photo Credit: SSG Emily Anderson

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom
Winning a gold medal during the 2011 Warrior Games wheelchair basketball tournament was not enough for SGT Lester Perez, an AW2 Soldier assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

“It felt great winning gold in wheelchair basketball, but that’s a group sport. I want to win in cycling, my individual event,” said Perez who participated in Warrior Transition Command (WTC) cycling clinics held in Coronado, California, January 13-14.

The training clinic gave candidates a chance to improve their cycling skills and honed their techniques as they prepared for selection for one of the cycling slots on the Army’s 2012 Warrior Games  team.

“Everyone’s working hard,” said SSG Mario Bilbrew, the Army Warrior Games cycling coach. “This clinic gave the participants a chance to see how well they are doing and what they need to continue to work on before the next one.”

Warrior Games is a sporting competition for wounded, ill, and injured athletes from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force, and Special Operations Command where servicemembers compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals in seven sports at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“The games are great,” Perez said, “I love being a part of something so challenging and rewarding.”

During the clinic, athletes practiced proper gear changes, the correct way to breathe while performing, how to navigate around other athletes, and how important it is to listen to the rhythm of the bike during the ride.

“Cycling is much different than wheelchair basketball,” said Perez, who competed with the gold-medal Army team in 2011 after breaking both his legs during an improvised explosive device explosion while deployed in February 2010. “No one’s there, helping me do anything. I’m responsible for everything, good or bad.”

Participants found out their best cycling performances from the coach when he timed their completion of 6.2 miles around the track. Since only athletes with the best timed trials during the next two clinics qualify to compete in the Warrior Games, the coach made sure the athletes knew their times before they attended the next cycling clinic in February.

“I’ve had to get use to the pedaling with the hand cycle. It’s all upper body,” said Perez, who had a time of 16 minutes and 53 seconds during the timed trials. “The clinic was very informative and a learning experience that will help in the future.”

Perez, who practices six days a week for his events, will try to compete again in the wheelchair basketball event and hopes to participate in sitting volleyball during the Warrior Games.

“I think this will be my last year competing because when I  leave the WTU I  start working for another unit as an intelligence analyst,” said Perez.  Perez has completed his Comprehensive Tranisiton Plan goals and training for a new  military occupational specialty.“We all have to overcome challenges. I think I’ve adapted pretty well to everything,” Perez said. “Even if you get hurt in the Army, it’s not the end. You have to go out and live life.”

AW2 Veteran and Advocate Competes with ‘Fire in His Belly’ for a Slot on the Army Warrior Games Sitting Volleyball Team

By Erich Langer, Warrior Transition Command Public Affairs

AW2 Veteran and Advocate Armando Mejia is one of 41 Soldiers and Veterans competing at a University of Central Oklahoma clinic for a slot on the Army Warrior Games sitting volleyball team.

For one particular Veteran competing for a position on the 2012 Army Warrior Games sitting volleyball team, the selection clinic taking place this week in Oklahoma is pretty serious stuff.  Armando Mejia focused like a laser beam and was ‘all ears’ as he attentively listened to clinic organizers, USA Volleyball coaches and other cadre discuss the training schedule, expectations and responsibilities for each of the players seeking a coveted slot on the prestigious Army team that will compete for gold at next spring’s Warrior Games.

Another boring Army training brief not unlike scores of others he likely has heard throughout his military career? Nope, for Mejia this is all business.

Warrior Games is a joint endeavor between the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and the U.S. Department of Defense. As many as 200 wounded, ill, and injured athletes from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy-Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations Command will compete next spring for gold medals in seven sports at the USOC’s National Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“After hearing about the opportunity to compete and represent the Army at the Warrior Games, I knew I wanted to do this,” said Mejia who credited MSG Rebeca Garo, AW2 Adaptive Sports Liaison who is serving as cadre staff for the clinic to getting him signed up for the clinic. “She was very enthusiastic about Warrior Games and provided me all the information I needed, she got me really excited about this opportunity.”

You can tell by looking in his eyes, this is something he wants. Coaches won’t have any motivational or discipline problems with Mejia; more likely, he’ll be a team leader that younger Soldiers and Veterans will look to for inspiration and guidance.

This ‘ain’t’ his first rodeo!

“I want to push myself physically and mentally during this week’s clinic,” said Mejia. “It feels great to be part of a team and the camaraderie is outstanding. It’s hard to describe the feelings of being part of a group that is focused on winning and becoming a more cohesive unit.”

His road to the University of Central Oklahoma’s (UCO) Army Warrior Gamessitting volleyball team selection clinic began in October 2004 while on a deployment to Iraq.  Mejia was traveling in a convoy when his HUMVEE was struck by an Improvised Explosive Devise (IED). Following the blast, his vehicle rolled 360 degrees.  He was pinned beneath the HUMVEE; injuries included broken bones, internal bleeding, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Post Traumatic Stress.  After more than 22 surgeries, Mejia decided to transition to Veteran status.

 

As an AW2 Veteran, Mejia is among more than 9,000 of the Army’s most severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans.  His affiliation with the Army could have ended there after all, he wasn’t in uniform any longer and the world presented him several opportunities.  Mejia chose a different path, a path that would lead him directly back to helping and working with Soldiers. No, he wouldn’t be wearing ACUs anymore but he would be responsible for scores of Soldiers as a newly minted AW2 Advocate.

“Mejia is something really special,” said Garo.  “He knew he wanted to help Soldiers like himself and continue to be a leader and mentor for others. So, he worked with his AW2 Advocate, Sue Maloney, who provided him some advice and recommendations on how to proceed. He his among as many as 200 AW2 Advocates working with, for, and on behalf of the Army’s most severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers.”

Like Maloney, Mejia is assisting severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers in the northwest.  He currently is posted at Joint Base Lewis McCord (JBLM).

 


WTC Soldier Reunites with Sister at Army’s 2012 Warrior Games Sitting Volleyball Team Selection Clinic

SGT Jontie Scott, Western Regional Medical Command, Ft. Lewis, Washington, a competitor at the 2012 WTC Warrior Games sitting volleyball team selection clinic pauses from the action on the court to chat with her sister Caroline, a student at the University of Central Oklahoma. Scott's service dog, Ava, sits patiently as the sisters catch up with each other after being apart for several years.

By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom
When SGT Jontie Scott learned that she would be traveling to Oklahoma for the Army’s 2012 Warrior Games sitting volleyball team selection clinic, her first shout out was to her sister Caroline. The sisters are close but hadn’t seen each other in more than five years, so an opportunity to catch up would be great. Scott was injured in Iraq and spent time recovering in Texas, and most recently at the Warrior Transition Unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA.

“I contacted my sister to tell her I’d be coming to the clinic and thought we might have an opportunity to get together,” said Scott, who is currently assigned to the Western Regional Medical Command (WRMC). “I knew Caroline was living in Oklahoma but didn’t realize she was attending college at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO). We laugh about it now, but the Warrior Transition Command’s (WTC) sitting volleyball clinic is taking place on the same campus, right down the street from where she lives and goes to school. Sometimes it can be a pretty small world!”

WTC teamed up with UCO, USA Volleyball, and the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Paralympics program for the Oklahoma clinic. Coaches, managers, cadre, and support staff traveled to the university to help the Army athletes fine tune their sitting volleyball skills as they compete for 13 slots on the Army’s 2012 Warrior Games team. The Army Warrior Games team earned a silver medal in 2011, but is committed to earning gold in 2012.

“UCO is an official U.S. Olympic training site and has been an official U.S. Paralympics training site since 2005,” said Elliot Blake, U.S. sitting volleyball athlete recruitment coordinator. “This is the second year UCO and the Army teamed up for a sitting volleyball clinic on campus. The 41 Soldiers and Veterans attending this year’s clinic are very committed to our training regime, which can be pretty intense. From what I’ve seen this week, the athletes here will match up very well against the Marines.”

Scott hopes to be one of those 13 athletes named to the team and worked hard all week to improve her sitting volleyball skills, techniques, and team play.

“I like sports and have always been very competitive, and I think that helps me when I play the seated game,” said Scott. “I learned at Ft. Hood and played at Ft. Lewis for a while now, and think I’m getting better but the competition at the UCO clinic is very intense. Lots of good athletes here.”

Caroline briefly interrupted her sister stating that Jontie is also a very good athlete and competed in several sports including track and field while in high school. “Jontie is much too modest,” said Caroline. “She was an outstanding athlete before she joined the Army and scoots across the volleyball court like a pro. It’s awesome that the Army has an adaptive sports and reconditioning program for their wounded warriors and that clinics like this one are available. I’m just learning about Warrior Games and international competition opportunities these Soldiers and Veterans can set their sights on, and I think it really is great that adaptive sport opportunities exist for the Soldiers.”

Scott competed at the Valor Games in Chicago this past summer and now has a few additional sports under her belt. With that experience she may also compete for cycling and track and field slots on the 2012 Warrior Games team.

“The Valor Games were really fun. I competed in power lifting for the first time and won gold,” said an excited Scott. “I hope I can also earn a slot on the Army Warrior Games track and field and cycling teams. The shot put is new to me but I feel good about running the 100-meter dash and cycling.”

In addition to cheering on her sister, Caroline has another important duty at the clinic: watching and attending to the needs of Scott’s service dog, Ava. The German shepherd goes everywhere with her Soldier and helps her physically and mentally. Ava learned commands in German when trained as a police dog. She was retrained as a service dog and has been by Scott’s side since August.

“Ava is great. She really is my attendant and knows when I get frustrated or tense,” said Scott. “I’m prone to nightmares and knowing that she is there is very comforting. She even helps steady me when I start to lose my balance or need to get up off the floor. I got her free from an organization in Bellingham, Washington and I’m very grateful for them for teaming us up.”

If Scott punches her ticket for the 2012 Warrior Games, you can count on Caroline and Ava to be on the sidelines cheering her to victory.

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