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 http://www.usaac.army.mil/amu/unit/paralympic.asp or visit http://www.wtc.army.mil/modules/soldier/s6-coadCOAR.html to learn about Continuation on Active Duty.

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 http://www.wtc.army.mil/.

Army Announces 2011 Army Warrior Games Team

Warrior Games Logo

By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom

The U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command (WTC) announced the selection of wounded warrior athletes that will represent the Army at the 2011 Warrior Games.  The Army team consists of active and reserve component Soldiers stationed in commands around the world as well as Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Soldiers and Veterans.

The competition, which is a joint effort between the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and the Department of Defense, will take place May 16-21, 2011, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.  The second annual Warrior Games will feature 200 wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers from all branches of the U.S. armed forces.  Competitors will compete in several sports including shooting, swimming, archery, track and field, cycling, sitting volleyball, and wheelchair basketball.

“Working with the USOC team for the benefit of our Army athletes is truly inspiring,” said BG Darryl Williams, WTC Commanding General. “Warrior Games 2010 was an overwhelming success for athletes, Families, and spectators.  I am excited for the opportunity our Army team will have to compete and win at the USOC National Training Center in May.  I am confident that the memories our athletes will make will be carried with them for a lifetime.”

The concept for Warrior Games was conceived in 2009 with inspiration from former WTC Commander BG Gary Cheek, USOC, United Services Organization, and Ride 2 Recovery with the goal of empowering wounded warriors to use adaptive sports to accelerate the healing and rehabilitation process.

“Warrior Games has proven to be a galvanizing effort that has helped Warrior Transition Unit Soldiers and AW2 Veterans get excited and motivated about participating and competing in sports,” said MSG James Shiver, WTC non-commissioned Officer-in-Charge of Adaptive Sports. “Physical activity has been proven to be important in mental and physical well-being; and, if we can help facilitate Soldiers getting off the couch and away from video games and other sedentary activities, everyone will benefit.” (more…)

Warrior Games Pushes Soldiers to Test Their Limits

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

Wednesday was another great day for Army athletes at the Warrior Games. The first medals of the Games were awarded and the Army swept the recurve bow archery competition and picked up bronze in compound bow archery. Our wheelchair basketball team defeated the Air Force to advance to the gold medal game Thursday night. You can see the latest results of all the competitions at the Paralympics website.

I’ve had a chance to talk to a number of Army athletes during the games and I continue to be impressed by how they are embracing their abilities and competing at the highest levels.

SSG Michael Kacer has been inspired by the Warrior Games. SSG Kacer is having the experience that I hoped all of our Soldiers would.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance but I hope I can repeat it,” he said. “I will take as much out of the Games as I can.”

He shows that you don’t know your limits until you push yourself and do things you never thought possible. Kacer arrived at the games to compete in seated volleyball and track events but he found out that he was also competitive as a swimmer. “I didn’t realize the talent I had until I got in the pool,” he said. “I plan to try out for the U.S. Paralympics team in 50 meter freestyle swimming.”

After competing at the Warrior Games, SSG Michael Kacer hopes to try out for the U.S. Paralympic team.

After competing at the Warrior Games, SSG Michael Kacer hopes to try out for the U.S. Paralympic team.

SSG Paul Roberts showed the power of teamwork in the win against Navy last night. He is one of the leaders of the team and motivates others to play their best. He said he finds inspiration from his mom. Her words, according to Roberts were, “Leave nothing on the court. Play as hard as you can and the medals will come.” I look forward to seeing SSG Roberts and the entire Army team compete for the gold. Go Army!

SSG Paul Roberts races down the court during Army’s win over Navy.

SSG Paul Roberts races down the court during Army’s win over Navy.

U.S. Paralympian John Register Inspires WTC Staff and Cadre

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

(L-R) U.S. Paralympian and Army Veteran John Register and BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander, addressed WTC staff and cadre at the WTC Winter Conference.

(L-R) U.S. Paralympian and Army Veteran John Register and BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander, addressed WTC staff and cadre at the WTC Winter Conference.

Yesterday, U.S. Paralympian and Army Veteran John Register addressed more than 400 WTC staff and cadre gathered for the WTC Winter Conference. John, who now works for the U.S. Olympic Committee, shared his personal story—in 1994, he was an elite-level athlete training for the 1996 Olympic Games when he fell in training and suffered multiple injuries: a hyper-extended knee, broken leg, and shredded artery. Because of the artery injury, John’s doctors offered him two choices: use a wheel-chair or walker for the rest of his life, or amputate the leg.

John focused on his abilities and his goals, and wasted no time getting back in shape. In the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, he competed in swimming, but was most inspired by amputees competing in track and field—his sport. He realized he could do that too, and in the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, John won a silver medal in the long jump.

John’s story is an example for all wounded warriors. When confronted with a life-altering situation, John’s attention turned to what he could do and to setting the goals it would take to get him to the next stage. John wanted to compete in the U.S. Olympic Games, and he wanted to continue actively living his life. By setting and achieving small goals, such as perfecting his stride and shaving seconds off his time, John worked incrementally to achieve his larger goal. Not only did he achieve the goal of competing in the Olympics, he won a silver medal.

“When you are injured, you need to accept and embrace the things that are out of your control and open your boundaries,” Register told the crowd. “Injured Soldiers, Veterans, and Family members have had everything stripped away from them, yet they have the intestinal fortitude to get it back. That’s the inspirational power of sports.”

Most wounded warriors stand to benefit tremendously from adaptive sports, activities that help them embrace their abilities. I encourage all Warriors in Transition (WT) to talk to their squad leader about adaptive sports opportunities in their area and to challenge their boundaries on the athletic field.

All WTC staff and cadre are excited about the upcoming Warrior Games on May 10-15 at the U.S. Olympic Facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado. One hundred Soldiers will compete against 100 Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in nine events. These warrior athletes are all currently actively training, meeting their incremental goals and inspiring other WTs in their units.

Announcing the Inaugural Warrior Games

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, right, commanding general, U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command, announces the inagural Warrior Games at a Pentagon press conference, Jan. 7, 2010. (DoD photo by R. D. Ward)

BG Gary Cheek announces the inaugural Warrior Games at a Pentagon press conference, Jan. 7, 2010. (DoD photo by R. D. Ward)

Yesterday, I was proud to join Charlie Huebner, Chief of Paralympics from the U.S. Olympic Committee to announce the inaugural Warrior Games at the Pentagon. On May 10 – 14, wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen will battle at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The Warrior Games will host 200 wounded warrior athletes to compete in the following events:

  • Archery
  • Cycling
  • Discus
  • Shooting
  • Shot put
  • Sitting Volleyball
  • Swimming
  • Track
  • Wheelchair Basketball
  • Ultimate Warrior Competition (pentathlon format)

At the press conference, I met SGT Juan Alcivar, who has been working toward recovery at Walter Reed. SGT Alcivar competed in sports for most of his life, and he is applying to compete in the Warrior Games in sitting volleyball, shot put and discus, and cycling.

SGT Alcivar told members of my team, “Staying in the Army is my biggest goal right now, and training for the Warrior Games will help me get in shape for my PT test. My squad leader is very supportive of things like this that help me to move forward with my life. Plus, I’m excited for the chance to beat a couple of my Marine buddies from physical therapy.”

I was so inspired listening to two-time Paralympian and Army Veteran John Register who stated:

“I saw the angel in the marble, and I carved until I set him free.” When I was a soldier, I was a part of an elite group called the Army’s World Class Athlete Program. It’s a program that allows a service member to train three to four years prior to an Olympic or Paralympic Games. I’d just graduated the University of Arkansas, where I was a four-time All-American there. And not only did the Army allow me to pursue my athletic careers, it also allowed me to pursue my military careers. I fell in love with the Army. I loved the discipline of it.

He closed his remarks by telling reporters, “These athletes are the angels in the marble. Through the support of the Department of Defense, the USOC and the Paralympic branch, and other partners, sports will be the chisel to set them free.”

I encourage all Wounded Warriors to strive to test new limits and achieve new goals as they demonstrate the power of ability over disability. Our servicemembers continually rise to the occasion both in the call to duty and in their efforts to recover from serious injury. The Warrior Games will provide a unique challenge for those who wish to learn more about Paralympic sports and compete at a national level.

Wounded Soldiers interested in competing in the Warrior Games should contact their squad leader for more information about the nomination process at their WTU.

Good luck to SGT Alcivar and all wounded warriors training for the Warrior Games. I look forward to the competition in May.

You can watch video of yesterday’s press conference at the PentagonChannel.mil and read the transcript on Defense.gov.

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