Once a Soldier…Army Veteran and Two-Time Paralympic Medalist Coaches Sitting Volleyball Team

Army Veteran Kari Miller earned two Paralympic silver medals in sitting volleyball.  In 2013, she’s coaching the Army team to defend its gold. (U.S. Air Force photo by MSG Sean M. Worrell)

Army Veteran Kari Miller earned two Paralympic silver medals in sitting volleyball. In 2013, she’s coaching the Army team to defend its gold. (U.S. Air Force photo by MSG Sean M. Worrell)

By Sarah Bartnick, WTC Stratcom
Kari Miller holds two Paralympic silvers in women’s sitting volleyball—from London and Beijing. She holds a world title, and she was named “best libero” (a special defensive position) at several prestigious international competitions. She’s among the best sitting volleyball players in the world.

And she’s coaching the 2013 Army Warrior Games team to defend their gold medal.

Miller didn’t always play sitting volleyball—her skills shone in basketball and track in high school, and she continued to play sports, even just for fun, when she joined the Army in 1995, even during her time in Bosnia and Germany.

She went home to visit her Family for Christmas in 1999, and everything changed. A drunk driver hit her vehicle, killing her friend and causing the amputation of both legs, one above the knee, one below.

Miller kept a positive attitude from the day she woke up, and when she discovered adaptive sports (first wheelchair basketball), her recovery improved dramatically too. Naturally,  as an incredible athlete, she quickly rose to the top of her sport.

But Miller is a Soldier first, even since leaving the Army. Since 2008, she’s worked with more than 450 servicemembers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, including Warrior Transition Unit Soldiers, to introduce them to the power of adaptive sports and reconditioning, specifically to sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.

She’s spent the last several months helping the Army sitting volleyball team prepare at  Warrior Transition Command training and selection clinics.

“It’s like going back to the time before my accident,” she said of surrounding herself with so many Soldiers during the training and competition, full of the camaraderie of her old Army unit.

She’s up for the challenge. “Warrior Games is on par with competing at the Paralympics for me. The biggest reward will be when we take home gold.”

Watch Kari Miller and the Army team defend their sitting volleyball gold live on ESPN on May 15, 8:30 pm/EST.

Think sitting volleyball’s a sleeper? Check out this 60-second Warrior Transition Command video to see the punishing sport for yourself.

Your Life Could Be Better Through Sports

Lt. Col. Danny Dudek emphasizes the power of adaptive sports and reconditioning in recovery and encourages all WTU Soldiers to try a new activity.

Lt. Col. Danny Dudek emphasizes the power of adaptive sports and reconditioning in recovery and encourages all WTU Soldiers to try a new activity.

By Sarah Bartnick, WTC Stratcom
“Your life could be better through sports.” That’s Lt. Col. Danny Dudek’s advice for all wounded, ill or injured Soldiers recovering at Warrior Transition Units.

And he knows what he’s talking about.  Not only did he command the Joint Base Lewis-McCord WTB after recovering from a spinal cord injury, he’s also defending three golds and a silver from his first Warrior Games.

As a WTB commander, Dudek saw success at the individual level when medical professionals focused on a “positive” profile.  “Instead of listing all the things a Soldier can’t do, some great doctors would list what the Soldiers can do,” he explained.  “For example, if my profile said I could go swimming, that swimming was good for my recovery, then my Squad Leader could make it my place of duty.”

“A lot of Soldiers aren’t willing to put themselves out there,” said Dudek. “Cadre and commanders can create an environment where Soldiers are willing to try, especially in small groups of five or less—epiphanies happen in small groups.”

Dudek encourages all WTU Soldiers to try an adaptive sport that’s best suited for their personality.  He competes in triathlons, skiing, and a variety of other sports throughout the year.  “Not everyone’s a daredevil like me,” he grinned as he leaned his wheelchair back into a wheelie.  “More exacting people like golf or shooting, but I like the element of danger.”

When he wrote the Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP) policy and guidance, Dudek emphasized adaptive reconditioning and Career and Employment Readiness, “because they’re both essential building blocks to transition,” he said.  “They enhance your quality of life.”

Going into the Warrior Games, Dudek’s most excited about his parents’ support.  “Cycling is on Mother’s Day,” he added, “and this year, both my parents are coming.”

Holding Eight Warrior Games Medals, MSG Rhoden Galloway Focuses on Team Spirit

MSG Rhoden Galloway (left) and SGT Se and Karpf, Warrior Transition Unit, compete at the cycling and swimming assessment and selection clinic at Fort Bliss, Texas.  With eight swimming medals to his credit, Galloway focuses on the team dynamic at this year’s Warrior Games. (U.S. Army Photo by Patrick Cubel)

MSG Rhoden Galloway (left) and SGT Se and Karpf, Warrior Transition Unit, compete at the cycling and swimming assessment and selection clinic at Fort Bliss, Texas. With eight swimming medals to his credit, Galloway focuses on the team dynamic at this year’s Warrior Games. (U.S. Army Photo by Patrick Cubel)

By Sarah Bartnick, WTC Stratcom
To MSG Rhoden Galloway, serving in the Army means serving as part of a team.

“Sometimes, it’s because we’ve suffered together,” he grinned as he reflected on the Army camaraderie he’d experienced throughout his Army career. “You spend nights laying on the earth in 20 or 30 degree weather half a world away from everyone you love, you become a team. On the mornings you’re feeling off, your buddies help boost your spirits. We suffer together, and we grow together.”

That didn’t change during his recovery at the Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

“At the WTB, everyone is in different phases of life, of recovery,” he explained. “It’s the strength of those who have been there that you look to when you’re recovering yourself. They’ve managed to get to the next phase, and you know you can too.”  He contributes to that team dynamic even after a Medical Review Board found him fit for duty, serving as the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of operations and training at the BAMC WTB. Encouraging newly injured Soldiers is a top priority for him. In fact, this former medic plans to work with people facing physical limitations for years to come.

Galloway found a strong team spirit around the Army Warrior Games pool. “In swimming, we all have our own passion, but we make progress on our own together. There’s a synergistic approach to competition.”

In 2011, Galloway almost met his goal of four swimming golds. Almost. He won three. “I was almost more proud of the silver,” he laughed, “because it was the relay. It wasn’t about first, second, or third; it was about what we could accomplish as a team.”

Feeling the pressure to defend his stellar performance, he won four silvers in 2012. “I’m not just representing myself or BAMC anymore. I’m representing the Army as a whole,” he said. “I’ve become much more passionate about the team performance.”  This year, he’ll again compete in swimming and cycling.

The 2013 Warrior Games arrive just months before Galloway expects to retire and his teens leave for college. In this time of change in his personal life, Galloway said, “I hope to make a strong impression and represent the Army as a whole. It’s my job to pass the torch, to make an impact. I hope people will see disabled people who are so physically driven and capable and be inspired themselves.”

Army Warrior Games Athletes Compete During Sitting Volleyball and Archery Trials

By LTC Jeanette H. Griffin, WTC Stratcom

Army Veteran Kevin Stone, the Army archery Coach provides instruction to SPC Quinton Piccone, Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Sam Houston, Texas  during archery practice at the 2013 Warrior Games  archery and sitting volleyball trials held on Fort Belvoir, Va., Feb. 25-March 1.

Army Veteran Kevin Stone, the Army archery Coach provides instruction to SPC Quinton Piccone, Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Sam Houston, Texas during archery practice at the 2013 Warrior Games archery and sitting volleyball trials held on Fort Belvoir, Va., Feb. 25-March 1. Stone is a first time coach for the 2013 Warrior Games. This is Piccone’s first time competing to represent the Army during the 2013 Warrior Games. (U.S. Army Photo by Monica Wilson)

After two grueling archery and sitting volleyball assessment and selection clinics, more than 40 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Veterans  from across the U.S. and Europe are steps closer to reaching their goal of representing the U.S. Army during the 2013 Warrior Games.

As part of the Army’s Warrior Games selection process, the Warrior Transition Command hosted the Army’s final sitting volleyball and archery trials on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, February 25-March 1.

“Overall, we have conducted more than 15 training and accession clinics to prepare our athletes for competition during the 2013 Warrior Games.” “Army athletes have received the best training possible from some of the top subject matter experts in their sports,” said MSG Jarrett Jongema, Adaptive Sports & Reconditioning Branch Noncommissioned Officer in Charge.

During the 2013 Warrior Games, slated for May 11-17 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, athletes will compete in sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, swimming, cycling, track and field, archery, and competitive shooting with hopes of being awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal.

The first archery and sitting volleyball multi-sport clinic was held in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the last week of October and a second clinic took place December 2012 at Fort Carson, Colorado.

“From the start, our athlete’s focused on shooting the best shots they possibly could regardless of their skill level. Some came in with the knowledge required, while others had to be taught,” said Kevin Stone, Head Coach of the U.S. Army archery team.

Since 2005, Stone has worked with the Paralympic Military Program and used his skills and expertise to train wounded, ill and injured service members to use adaptive sports as a part of their rehabilitation.  Today, two times Paralympian and Army Veteran Kevin Stone is doing what he loves best as the Head Coach for the Army archery team.

“We ran the clinics as if they were training at an Olympic Center or before a National Championship tournament,” said Stone. We relaxed the troops with music during practice and while scoring. The experienced troops did not miss a beat and the inexperienced troops were given separate and individual instruction before re-joining the main body. This practical immersion worked and was apparent in the scores they provided.”

Similar to the athletes; Stone understands what it means to face a traumatic injury and diligently work towards recovery. As a Noncommissioned Officer and member of the U.S. Army Light Infantry, Stone sustained injuries to his neck as a result of a vehicle rollover and was pronounced as an incomplete quadriplegic.  Today, Stone uses a wheelchair and the aid of a cane to stand or walk short distances.

Stone credits therapists and doctors at the VA hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he received outpatient treatment to aid in his recovery.

“There was nothing ‘impossible’ at that hospital,” said Stone.  The only limitations you have are those you put on yourself. ”

Stone has  a record of success with focused training and competition in the sport of archery, winning his first bronze medal as part of the U.S. Paralympics’ historic team event at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.   At the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing he set two U.S. world records in the initial individual rounds using the recurve bow.

“I started my rehabilitation by using the adaptive sport of shooting and later crossed over to the sport of archery,” said Stone.

“It has been an honor to have been able to serve as an athlete, it’s even more of an honor to serve our athletes as a coach and mentor,” said Stone.

Warrior Games Assessment and Selection Clinics Underway

By Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom

U.S. Army SSG Charles Baird, currently assigned to the Fort Belvoir Warrior Transition Unit, takes aim during the Army archery and sitting volleyball assessment and selection clinic for the 2013 Warrior Games.

The U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command Warrior Games assessment and selection clinics are currently being held throughout the United States to find the best athletes to represent the Army during the annual Warrior Games.

“The clinics are really good because it gives me a chance to get active and be a part of a team again,” said SGT Jeremy Bowser, currently assigned to B Company, Fort Drum Warrior Transition Unit. “I feel I’m getting involved and not just sitting around doing nothing. “

The first multi-sport clinic was held in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the last week of October and the second multi-sport clinic will take place November 4 – 9, 2012, at Fort Bliss, Texas. The Fort Belvoir clinic included specialized training in archery and sitting volleyball, and the Fort Bliss clinic will include cycling and swimming activities.

“Providing opportunities to compete and rebuild confidence in their abilities is the primary reason we’re holding these clinics, but we also want Soldiers and Veterans to try the different reconditioning activities.” said LTC Keith Williams, Adaptive Reconditioning Branch Chief, Warrior Transition Command. “This is the athletes chance to see if there’s another sport they would really enjoy doing.”

“Bringing awareness to the different types of activities available is the one of the reasons we host clinics and camps on military bases or highly populated military areas,” Williams added. “Our primary camps and clinics focus on holistically reconditioning our Soldiers in each of the six Comprehensive Transition Plan domains.”

Since 2010, nearly 200 wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers and Veterans competed annually at Warrior Games, a unique partnership between the Department of Defense and U.S. Olympic Committee Paralympic Military Program. Warrior Games’ athletes  compete in sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, swimming, cycling, track and field, archery, and competitive shooting. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to the athletes or team members who place first, second, or third  in their events respectively.

“It’ll be exciting if I make the team because I’ve never done a competition like this before,” said SSG Charles Baird, currently assigned to A Company, Fort Belvoir Warrior Transition Unit. “This is a new experience, and it will be a great honor to take part in something like this which not everyone is able to do.”

Although Baird is competing for a position on the Army’s archery team, he decided to look into the other Warrior Games sports for a chance to secure a spot on the team.

“Participating in these clinics is very therapeutic and helps take my mind off of other things.” Baird said. “I’ve played wheelchair basketball before, but I will have to learn how to swim because if I don’t make the team this year I’ll have an extra advantage for next year’s team.”

Last year the Army dominated in several events, winning more than sixty medals, and 2013 Warrior Games looks to be no different.

“After watching the competitors during the clinic and the feedback I’m getting from the field, I have no doubt the Army’s team will be a reckoning force during the 2013 Warrior Games,” Williams said.

Army Dominates Marines In WheelChair Basketball Rematch

Retired Army CPL Perry Price III, of Wilmington, Del., races down the basketball court alongside retired Army SPC Juan Soto, a San Antonio, Texas, native, at a wheelchair basketball game against the Marines during the 2012 Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. on May 3. The Army defeated the Marines 45-27. (Photo by Army SGT Jerry Griffis, 43rd Public Affairs Detachment)

By SGT Jerry Griffis, 43rd Public Affairs Detachment
Two rivals met on the court again May 3, 2012, for a second night of wheelchair basketball.  The Warrior Games continued with the Army team facing off against the Marines for a chance at the gold medal.  Fans cheered, and anticipation was high as the game began with retired Army CPL Perry Price III, a Wilmington, Del. native, scoring the first two points of the game.

The Warrior Games is an annual competition between wounded, injured, and ill service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and SOCOM.  The games feature a variety of sporting events, including cycling, shooting, wheelchair basketball, archery, track and field, swimming, and sitting volleyball.

The game was not without bumps and bruises.  At one point, retired Army SSG Paul Roberts, of Newport News, Va., scored two points right before crashing into a padded goal support.  The play was highly contested between the two teams, and after falling out of his chair, Roberts walked off the court unassisted.

Overall the Army team dominated the game with a final score of 45-27.

“We were going to come out like we would against anybody, with a lot of intensity, and a lot of focus and try to have a little patience on offense and get the shots that we wanted,” said Doug Varner, the Army wheelchair basketball coach. “We have one game left and it will be the gold medal.  We will make a few tweaks defensively.  The Marines played really well.

“The team played great. The team played as a team all the way through, said Army Veteran, Damion Peyton, of Washington, D.C. “I’m not even worried about us getting that gold.”

U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Trains Army Warrior Games Athletes

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC STRATCOM

SFC Tom Rose, assigned to the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, pictured left, teaches AW2 Veteran Justin Miller additional pistol techniques. Miller is competing in the Warrior Games shooting event on May 3.

The Army Warrior Games shooting team is capitalizing on its extra advantage — the United States Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU).

 “I think a lot of the athletes are going to do very well,” said SFC Janet Sokolowski, the USAMU platoon sergeant for the cross-functional pistol. “The training clinics they went to before the games were really helpful.”

 The USAMU is a world-class shooting team composed of Soldiers. They are considered the best of the best and have gained worldwide respect by winning hundreds of individual and team competitions, including World Championships and Olympic medals.

 “We’ve helped the Army shooting team every year for Warrior Games,” Sokolowski said. “It takes a lot of skill, but several of the athletes are open to learning.”

 “Matter of fact the team we have here has lots of experience and love doing this,” she said about the other members who are putting their experience to helping the Army Warrior Games shooting team to bring home gold.

 The Warrior Games shooting competition consists of athletes accurately using either a pistol or rifle to fire a series of shots at a stationary target during a timed session.

 “I’m learning a lot,” said AW2 Veteran Justin Miller. “With the help of CPL Rawlings (an USAMU Soldier) and the techniques he taught me about the rifle helped me to dial in and take better aim.”

 “This training has been very productive,” Miller said. “I’m learning holding drills for the pistol which helps to stabilize the muscles.”

 Shooting maybe the USAMU main area of expertise, but competing is not their only skill. These Soldiers assist in technical development of military small arms equipment and ammunition. They translate their competitive marksmanship skills into useful combat marksmanship.

 “Once you’ve conditioned yourself to shooting, it becomes 90% mental,” Sokolowski said. “We’re extremely goal oriented.”

Athletes Inspire Athletes

 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

I’m finally here.  After many months of preparation and hard work, I’m finally seeing how big Warrior Games really is.  It didn’t hit until I was on the track today with members of the Army team going through their workouts.   Air Force team athletes were on the other side of the track with the same determination and seriousness of our team.  I feel differently than when I was younger.  Then I wanted to crush everyone not wearing my uniform, now I want everyone to do well and excel and enjoy second place right behind me.  I’m glad to see so many service members overcoming the adversities that brought them here. 

The track at the Air Force Academy is incredible.  Those that know me probably wonder what I’m comparing it to since I’ve always avoided track work, but in Colorado Springs you get that sense that you can’t get much closer to nature.  The air is dry and sun is just warm enough to let you can still enjoy the cool breeze.  It was clear today and easy to get lost into the zone of pushing that racing wheelchair around the track and forgetting about all the people around me.  Of course the air took its toll on my ability to push my lungs as hard as I did at the Fort Belvoir track in Virginia, but that’s why we’re here a little early –  training to get ourselves in the best position to win. 

The pool is also an impressive venue, with plenty of deck space and stands to accommodate as many as you can expect to want to watch swimming.  I was surprised to feel the thin air affect me in the water as well. 
As I look around at all of the Army athletes, I feel lucky to be among such incredible people.  If you’re reading this, you probably already know one… but there are forty nine other athletes just as talented and just as driven to excel.  I plan to do everything I can these next few weeks to show I can earn a place among them.  Go Army!

Athletes Compete for a Spot on Army’s Warrior Games Cycling Team

SGT Julio Larrea rode a few laps around the parking lot of McGill Training Center, Fort Meade, Maryland, to prepare for a timed trial during the Warrior Transition Command’s final selection clinic.

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom
The Warrior Transition Command final Warrior Games selection clinic held at Fort Meade, Maryland last week gave about 50 Soldiers and Veterans a chance to compete in four different sports for a spot on the Army team, but for several athletes this was their first chance to compete in the cycling event.

Athletes using an upright cycle are required to complete a distance of 30and athletes riding a recumbent cycle must complete a distance of 20 kilometers. Hand-crank cycles and all female cyclists, regardless of which cycle used, must complete 10 kilometers.

“I was going to do this last year, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to,” said SGT Julio Larrea, an AW2 Soldier assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland.

Larreawas serving as an infantryman when he was injured when his left foot was crushed in a vehicle rollover during his deployment to Afghanistan in August 2010. His left leg was eventually amputated because of too much soft tissue damage and small reoccurring infections.

“It’s funny because before I deployed I told everyone I wanted to be home for my birthday. I didn’t want to spend another birthday deployed,” Julio said. “I was actually flown to Walter Reed on September 7, my birthday. I guess I got my wish.”

If selected, Larrea plans to take his postive attitude and determination to Warrior Games.

“No matter what I get tasked to do, I’ll do the best I can. Everything you do and everything you go through is you getting the job done,” Larrea said. “I don’t let things get me down too much. That’s just my personality.”

For some, going to Warrior Games is a chance at redemption from previous year’s competitions and Army athletes are determined to do their best.

“Last year the Marines had a stategy,” said SSG Kenny Griffith, who competed for the title of Ultimate Champion the first two years of Warrior Games and plans to compete again this year for the title.

Ultimate Champion is a Pentathlon-style format designed to pit Soldiers  against each other in a variety of disciplines. Points are earned in each discipline, and the athlete collecting the most points is crowned Ultimate Champion.

“I got blocked out by them in cycling last year because they had two cyclists take off at the start then the majority of them were at a decent speed, but I couldn’t get ahead of the pack because they had two cyclists at the back kind of blocking anyone from getting ahead,” said Griffith, a Soldier assigned to the Fort Hood WTU.

“This will probably be my last year competing in Warrior Games,” said Griffith. “Originally it was going to be last year, but I wanted to come back because I’m able to help with tactics and show people how to stay with the group.”

Throughout the clinic the cyclists gave it their all and motivated others who had never competed before to try cycling.

“Everyone worked pretty good together. They were close-knit, encouraging, and motivating.” SSG Mario Bilbrew, the Army’s Warrior Games cycling coach, said. “I’m confident we are going to do good at Warrior Games.”

The US Army Marksmanship Unit Paralympic Shooting Team is Expanding

By LTC Scott Wales, Guest Blogger

Editors Note: The expressed comments and views of guest bloggers do not reflect the views of WTC or the United States Army.

For many years, the face of the Army Paralympic shooting effort was SFC Josh Olson. Now, the Army Paralympic shooting team is authorized a dozen shooters to represent the United States in international competition and is in the final steps of adding two more shooters to the squad, with half a dozen more being vetted.

The two new additions to the team are SPC Shanan Lefeat, an arm amputee, and SPC Eric Trueblood, a below the knee amputee.  Lefeat was transferred to the Fort Benning Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) to train with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) while Human Resources Command finishes reviewing a medical board’s recommendation that she continue on active duty (COAD). This is a necessary step, because all USAMU members are Soldiers first, competitors second.

Trueblood is a little further back in the recovery and paperwork process, but he is representative of many young Soldiers who learn about the opportunities available for continued service. When asked to describe Trublood’s reaction when he heard about the Paralympic shooting team, long-time USAMU member SFC Bill Keever said, , “His eyes just lit up when he realized there was a way he could remain a Soldier and continue to serve his country.”

Keever continued, “When I visit Walter Reed or the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center, I explain to wounded Soldiers that they may no longer be on the battlefield, but the battle isn’t over. Their new battle can be against the competition on the shooting range.” For a young Soldier who has only seen an Army at war, where life has been a constant cycle of deploy and refit, deploy and refit, this is a revelation.

Keever noted, “When someone, anyone, lays down behind a rifle to competitively shoot, the focus required to do that task seems to block out any of the other issues they may be dealing with. Every Soldier comes to us with motivation and basic rifle marksmanship skills. We believe that with the coaching and other resources available at the USAMU we can take them as far as their talent will allow. It took three years for SFC Olson to reach world class level, but that entire time—and for years to come—he will represent the Army and the United States in a positive way.”

He summed up his recruiting efforts in this way, “I don’t hire people with disabilities. I hire people with ability. The USAMU is interested in people who are motivated and willing to train hard to represent their country as a world class athlete.”

The USAMU sends out representatives and training teams to work with wounded warriors on a regular basis. Those interested in competing at a high level in either the Paralympics or the upcoming Warrior Games in May are encouraged to make this known to their chain of command. More information on the USAMU is at www.usamu.com.

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