US Army Marksmanship Unit offers wounded, ill and injured Soldiers opportunities to serve and compete

By Emily D. Anderson, WTC Communications Division

Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson became the first active-duty Soldier wounded in combat to compete in the Paralympic Games when he competed in two events at the London Games in 2012.

Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson became the first active-duty Soldier wounded in combat to compete in the Paralympic Games when he competed in two events at the London Games in 2012.

When you think of an Army unit, most of the time the thought of an artillery unit or infantry unit comes to mind, but the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) Paralympic Section wants to change that thought process by showing the military contains a multitude of diversity in units and Soldiers.

“As a shooter, you grow up watching and competing in this sport, the Army Marksmanship Unit is the apex of where you want to be,” said Sgt. 1st Class Armando Ayala, the Paralympic Section coach and El Paso, Texas native. “It is a natural progression to want to eventually end up in this unit.”

Originally formed in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the USAMU trains its soldiers to win competitions and enhances combat readiness through train-the-trainer clinics, research and development.

Despite the long hours of training and the time dedicated to competing, Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson and Staff Sgt. John Joss are two soldiers assigned to the USAMU Paralympic Section and use their expertise to train other Paralympic hopefuls as well as junior riflemen and wounded warriors.

“I really enjoy the basic training of high school students because when they learn something and can apply it, they get really excited. Their confidence increases,” said Olson of Spokane, Wash. “They stand a little straighter when you give them a few basic pointers, and they start shooting 15 out of 20 or 18 out of 20.”

The USAMU’s ground-breaking Paralympic Section is comprised with Army wounded, ill and injured Soldiers who showcase the Army and help raise the standard of the Army’s marksmanship proficiency.

USA Shooting named Staff Sgt. John Joss as the 2013 Paralympic Athlete of the Year.

USA Shooting named Staff Sgt. John Joss as the 2013 Paralympic Athlete of the Year.

“This section was formed to recruit and train wounded warriors in national and international games,” Ayala said. “We are training Soldiers to accomplish in three or four years, what those in the civilian world are doing in 15 years.”

“It is important that wounded warriors understand this is not a wounded warrior program. It is not a given program,” he added. “We expect them to come here, work hard, maintain the status of the team, and be very driven and coachable.”

In 2013, both Olson and Joss showed the world their impressive shooting skills. Olson, who lost his right leg in an ambush in 2003 while deployed to Iraq, became the first active-duty Soldier wounded in combat to compete in the Paralympic Games when he competed in two events at the London Games in 2012.

“It was great, but if I could change anything about it is that I would let myself enjoy it more.” Olson said about his 2012 London Games experience. “I was so focus on my training that I didn’t step back and take it in that I was competing against the world’s best shooting athletes.”

Joss, a Burkburnett, Texas native, received recognition as the 2013 Paralympic Athlete of the Year by USA Shooting, an organization recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee as the national governing body for the sport of shooting.

I was surprised that I was named the Paraylmpic Athlete of the Year,” said Joss, who currently serves on Continuation on Active Duty, an opportunity for wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers to continue their service after being found physically unfit by a Physical Evaluation Board.

“This honor is usually reserved for those more prestigious, so to receive it for my first year of shooting is kind of humbling,” said Joss.

For more information about the USAMU Paralympic Section, visit or visit to learn about Continuation on Active Duty.

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

Commander’s Drumbeat: Military Athletes Compete at Warrior Care Month Sitting Volleyball Tournament

Soldiers playing sitting volleyball block at the net

SGT Juan Alcivar, left, and SSG Jessie White block at the net during a sitting volleyball match between the Army and a Pentagon team of Navy Reservists at the Pentagon Athletic Center on Nov. 22. WTC hosted the All-Service Sitting Volleyball Tournament as a part of Warrior Care Month. Photo Credit: James R. Wenzel

By BG Darryl A. Williams, WTC Commander

The energy was off the charts yesterday as the Pentagon Athletic Center filled with people cheering on our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines—Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve—during the Army Warrior Transition Command Warrior Care Month Sitting Volleyball Tournament.  

 Across the Army this month, units and installations have hosted events and engaged local communities and media to highlight warrior care. This tournament was the Army’s Warrior Care Month pinnacle event in the National Capital Region.  I wish all of you could have experienced the excitement of being among so many people joined together celebrating these wounded, ill and injured men and women—celebrating their service, their abilities, and their amazing spirits. Among the attendees were several senior military leaders including the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Director of Army Staff and the Army Surgeon General. 

 Three of the four sitting volleyball teams were made up of wounded, ill, and injured service members—Army, Marines and a Joint team. The fourth team was a Pentagon team of Navy Reservists. I offer a huge shout out to the Pentagon team—they won the tournament with the Army taking second place. It wasn’t an easy win, these players gave their all.

 Army Sgt. Jonathan Duralde said it best, “The other teams were great; it was especially good to see the strategy of the Pentagon team. For us it was a competition and we were there to play regardless of the teams and regardless who won.”  

 Duralde, a below the knee amputee, wounded in Afghanistan in June 2010, recently reenlisted and is continuing on Active Duty. He is assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir and will soon start working in the Warrior Transition Command. 

 My biggest shout-out goes to all of the competitors. The tournament was about teamwork, cohesion and esprit d ‘corps. You all exemplify the best part of who we are.

 Not only did we see world class military athletes compete, we were privileged to have world class support and participation at this event. Well deserved shout-outs go to some special people:

  •  John Register, one of our tournament commentators. A Paralympics athlete and Army Veteran, he understands the healing power of sports and the significance it can play in the rehabilitation and recovery of our wounded, ill, and injured.
  •  John Kessel, Managing Director, Region Services, USA Volleyball. Kessel joined Register as a commentator and between the two of them kept everyone up to speed on each and every play with interviews about the power of adaptive sports and reconditioning activities between games.
  •  Kari Miller, a former Soldier who lost both her legs as the result of an auto accident involving a drunk driver, who went on to win a Paralympics silver medal in sitting volleyball in 2008. She taught the athletes the tips and tricks of sitting volleyball and refereed the tournament.
  •  Elliot Blake, Sitting Volleyball and Athlete Recruitment Coordinator, USA Volleyball. He also coached and refereed.
  •  Vic Breseford and his team from the Army Media & Visual Information Directorate. They did a super job with sound and getting us live coverage on DVIDS and the Pentagon Channel.
  •  Defense Media Activity (DMA) supported with visual and print staff.
  •  Candice Barlow-Jones. An invaluable member of the WTC team who lent her exceptional voice to our  national anthem, kicking off the event.

 Congratulations to all of the participants.

 I’d enjoy hearing about your Warrior Care Month plans and experiences. Please post your comments on this blog by clicking on the headline and scrolling to the bottom of the page to the comment box.

More information on events at WTUs around the country is available on the WTC website at

Wounded Warrior #1 in Nation

OIF Veteran Kortney Clemons won two national titles at the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships.

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

Getting to know the Army’s Warriors in Transition has been a highlight of my job. To hear their stories, learn about their new goals, and see them achieve new heights is what it’s all about—helping Soldiers move into a successful life post injury.

One Soldier I have been following for several years is Kortney Clemons. Kortney was an Army medic who stepped on an IED while working to save a Soldier’s life which resulted in the amputation of his leg. During his recovery at BAMC, he thought his athletic days were over until he saw Paralympian Veteran John Register running around the track on his prosthetic. Kortney set a new goal then and there: become a runner.

Kortney has long since achieved this goal, but this week he took it to a new level becoming the United States Paralympic National Track and Field Champion in the 100 and 200 meters. This is just the latest accomplishment by Kortney whose focused determination to not only succeed, but to excel so epitomizes Warrior Transition Command’s theme, “Soldier Success Through Focused Commitment” that it recently prompted us to include Kortney’s determined and focused image on our recently unveiled branding campaign.

SGT Robert Brown also competed at this meet—SGT Brown lost his right leg below the knee and has continued on active duty. The three medals he earned at the 2010 Warrior Games while competing for the Ultimate Champion title inspired him to compete at the national level.

Congratulations Kortney and SGT Brown—I look forward to watching where your running will take you next.

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.

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 Veterans Make A Big Impression At Paralympic Games

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

AW2 Veteran Andy Soule won America’s first medal of the 2010 Paralympic Games and America’s first Paralympic biathlon medal.  He earned the bronze in men’s sitting 2.4km pursuit biathlon (Photo courtesy of Joe Kusumoto Photography).

"It felt just incredible," said Andy Soule in an interview immediately after the race. "I've had World Cup wins and World Cup podiums before, but there's nothing quite like this, in this atmosphere, in front of a crowd here with everyone watching." (Photo courtesy of Joe Kusumoto Photography)

I’m not surprised at all to see AW2 Veterans already emerging as stars of the 2010 Paralympic Games. While all AW2 Veterans are resilient, it’s wonderful to see these two incredible Veterans achieving greatness.

On Friday, AW2 Veteran Heath Calhoun carried the U.S. flag in the opening ceremony, an incredible honor for any athlete, and especially for a Veteran who has already sacrificed so much for our country. Heath lost both legs above the knee while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and he will compete in Alpine Skiing later this week.

“It’s an incredible honor to be able to carry the American flag – it’s something that I believe in,” said Heath in a video on the U.S. Paralympics Web site. “If I win a medal and they raise the American flag, I will be crying. The national anthem means a lot to me – I was injured for what that flag stands for.”

If that weren’t enough, AW2 Veteran Andy Soule made history on Saturday by winning America’s first medal of the 2010 Paralympic Games and America’s first Paralympic biathlon medal. He earned the bronze in men’s sitting 2.4km pursuit biathlon, and said it was a “dream come true.” Andy is also a double amputee who served in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Congratulations to Andy for your medal and to Heath for carrying the U.S. flag, and good luck to you both and to all the athletes as you compete throughout the rest of the week.

AW2 Veteran Andy Soule Wins First U.S. Medal in 2010 Paralympic Games

By BG Gary H. Cheek

On Saturday, I was excited to learn that AW2 Veteran Andy Soule had won the bronze medal in the men’s sitting 2.4km pursuit biathlon – America’s first medal of the 2010 Paralympic Games and America’s first ever medal in Paralympic biathlon. Andy finished 5th in the qualifying heat, but his perseverance and determination helped him pull through and win the bronze.

Andy volunteered to serve in the Army after 9/11, and he deployed to Afghanistan through Operation Enduring Freedom. He lost both his legs due to an IED [improvised explosive device] explosion. As he recovered, Andy realized the importance of staying active and quickly hit the slopes to learn how to ski.

“Sports have been absolutely fantastic for me,” said Andy in an interview immediately following the race, “for making me active and giving me something positive to do. I’m happy and this is a dream come true. For anyone facing a disability, life goes on and there’s still plenty of living to do.”

Andy’s success story is an example for all wounded warriors, not just on the slopes of Whistler Olympic Park, but throughout his recovery and transition. He decided to keep moving forward with his life, and look at him now.

Way to represent the Army, Andy! And good luck to you and your four other Veteran teammates competing this week.

Wounded Warrior Bears U.S. Flag at Paralympics

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

AW2 Veteran Heath Calhoun is a double amputee Alpine skier in the 2010 Paralympic Games.

AW2 Veteran Heath Calhoun is a double amputee Alpine skier in the 2010 Paralympic Games.

I’ll be watching the upcoming 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in the days ahead with a great sense of pride as three wounded Soldiers represent the United States in Vancouver. 

As with all Olympic Games, it’s a great honor to bear the flag during the Opening Ceremony.  And this year, teammates selected AW2 Veteran Heath Calhoun, a double amputee Alpine skier, for that honor.  In his paralympic video, Heath stated, “I was injured for what that flag stands for.” 

Service to country runs deep in the Calhoun family. His father served in Vietnam, his grandfather in World War II and Heath as a squad leader in the 101st Airborn Division in Iraq, where an RPG struck his vehicle resulting in the amputation of both legs.

As with most wounded Soldiers, it was important for Heath to remain active post injury so he took up skiing explaining, “It gave me my legs back… when I ski, I rely solely on my own ability.”

I’m sure the U.S. Team will benefit from the dedication, training and strength of all five Veterans:

  • Heath Calhoun (Grundy, Va.), alpine skiing – a double above the knee amputee, retired U.S. Army (Iraq War Veteran) 
  • Chris Devlin-Young (Campton, N.H.), alpine skiing – retired U.S. Coast Guard 
  • Sean Halsted (Spokane, Wash.), cross country skiing – retired U.S. Air Force 
  • Patrick McDonald (Orangevale, Calif.), wheelchair curling – retired U.S. Army 
  • Andy Soule (Pearland, Texas), cross country skiing & biathlon – a double leg amputee, retired U.S. Army (Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom)

I encourage everyone to throw their support behind these Olympic Athletes – and watch true warriors in action.

Athletic Inspiration – AW2 Veterans in Paralympics

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

Although I don’t typically watch a lot of sports, I always follow the Olympics. As a non-athlete (see my blog on running the Army 10 Miler), watching athletes of this caliber in action is amazing, unbelievable and beautiful. During the Winter Games, I was captivated by the women’s downhill skiing and men’s snowboarding.

Watching these athletes, hearing their stories and being a part of their triumphs awoke my lazy inner-athlete. Yes, after a four-month hiatus, it was time start running again. I got new shoes (hey, even the Olympians have great uniforms!) and hit the pavement.

To keep up my momentum, I will look to new Olympic athletes for inspiration — those at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C., March 12-21, 2010. The U.S. Team, made up of athletes from 20 U.S. states, will compete in five sports (alpine skiing, biathlon, cross country skiing, sled hockey and wheelchair curling). A projected 600 elite athletes with a physical disability from more than 40 countries are expected to compete at the Games.

Among the 50 athletes, five are U.S. military veterans:

  • Heath Calhoun (Grundy, Va.), alpine skiing – a double above the knee amputee, AW2 Veteran (Iraq War Veteran)
  • Chris Devlin-Young (Campton, N.H.), alpine skiing – retired U.S. Coast Guard
  • Sean Halsted (Spokane, Wash.), cross country skiing – retired U.S. Air Force
  • Patrick McDonald (Orangevale, Calif.), wheelchair curling – retired U.S. Army
  • Andy Soule (Pearland, Texas), cross country skiing & biathlon – a double leg amputee, AW2 Veteran (Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom)

I look forward to watching these wounded warriors in action and using their stories to keep me inspired during my daily runs. Hope you’ll cheer them on with me!

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