Ride to Win

By Tim Poch, WTC Stratcom

In April 2010, LTC David Haines (left) accepted the Warrior Transition Battalion’s flag from COL Ronald Place (right), MEDDAC Commander at Fort Knox’s Ireland Army Community Hospital. (Photo courtesy of Army.mil)

The Warrior Games are part of a major effort to inspire success, to capitalize on physical fitness, and to promote new opportunities for growth and achievement among the Army’s Warriors in Transition. In summary, the Warrior Games encourage ability over disability not just in the area of athletics, but in all areas of a Warrior in Transition’s life.

Ability comes in many different forms and for each Warrior Games participant, ability often reaches levels far beyond his or her immediate post-injury expectations. LTC David Haines, a Warrior Transition Brigade (WTB) Commander at Fort Knox, KY, is no exception. He said, “Training for the Warrior Games gave me very specific goals and objectives. I was missing this direction before. The Warrior Games provided me the motivation to get back into the shape I was in before I was injured.” Haines will be competing in this year’s Warrior Games 30K cycling event.

Haines enlisted in the Army in 1983 as an Armor Crewman and received a commission in 1991 as an Armor Officer. He served both as an active duty Soldier and as a National Guardsman with tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In October 2006, while on a mounted patrol in Baghdad, Iraq, Haines was in a vehicle when it was hit by an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP), causing severe injuries to his arm, hand, and leg, resulting in nerve damage. Three of his Soldiers were also injured and one died in the explosion. Returning to the United States, Haines received treatment at the Fort Knox WTB for approximately three years. Haines also received physical therapy and an opportunity to identify how to shape his life moving forward post-injury. Although these challenges changed the way Haines lives his life, they did not change the way he achieves his goals. For Haines, athletics became a motivator to reach other goals in life.

Sports have always been a favorite pastime for Haines. As a New England native, Haines participated in cold weather sports as a child. As he got older, however, he became passionate for road and mountain bike racing. Haines has competed at the amateur level and said returning to cycling was one of his major motivations during recovery and rehabilitation at the Fort Knox WTB. When asked why he was competing in the 2011 Warrior Games he responded, “I love to race bikes and hope to represent the Army and Warriors in Transition well. It is another milestone in my recovery.”

In order to prepare himself for the Warrior Games, Haines read Joe Friel’s “Training Bible for Cyclists” and used its best practices as a way to dedicate himself to training. Starting in December of 2010, he focused on achieving a competitive qualifying time for the games. He described his training as a series of “intense” workout sessions, five to six days a week, totalling to approximately 10-15 hours of training per week. In fact, in the process he lost 15 pounds. To compliment his training, Haines participated in the Ride2Recovery Texas Challenge, an organized bike ride from the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX to Dallas/Fort Worth, TX, to get, as Haines put it, “long intense days in the saddle.”

When asked what his major life achievements are he said, “Staying married for almost 22 years and having two great kids.” Haines was quick to add that his wife deserves most of the credit for both achievements. Athletically, Haines added that his first place finish at the Kansas State Category 5 Omnium Championship in 2004 and his second place finish in the 2005 Armed Forces Europe Mountain Bike Series, are among his top cycling achievements.

For the future, Haines plans to stay in the Army despite his eligibility to retire. Haines added that if he ever decides to leave the Army, there are two possibilities out there for him. Haines explained, “If I can make a living somewhere in the cycling industry or helping other wounded warriors, I am there!”

For more information on the 2011 Warrior Games please visit the Army Warrior Games Web page.

 

 

Swimming Competitor Prepares for Upcoming Warrior Games

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom

SGT James Arnold is one of 19 Warriors in Transition swimmers who will compete at the 2011 Warrior Games.

The light blue water splashes across U.S. Army SGT James Arnold’s face. He is almost there, only a few more meters. Leaving behind the scars and the pain, he is one with the water. This is his chance to prove that anything is possible.

“I love to swim and am very competitive,” said Arnold, of Chattanooga, TN, who injured his left leg while deployed to Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq, and who is one of 19 Warriors in Transition preparing to head to Fort Carson, CO, to race in the upcoming swimming competition at the 2011 Warrior Games.

“I decided to compete to help raise awareness of the wounded warriors’ plight in mainstream America,” Arnold added. “I was thrilled to be invited to join the competition and am excited to compete with other Veterans.”

Arnold, who was recently treated through a Warrior Transition Unit and is assigned to the Tennessee National Guard’s 230th Sustainment Brigade, will compete in the 50-meter freestyle swim, 100-meter freestyle swim, and 30-kilometer cycling events. He has prepared for the competition by swimming daily for two hours at Chattanooga gyms and riding a stationary bike.

“Being with other wounded warriors will be a chance of a lifetime,” Arnold said. “I am hoping to win a gold medal.”

Holly Sisk, a performance enhancement specialist (PES) with the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness-Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program (CSF-PREP) at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was selected as the swimming coach for the Warrior Games and has helped the swimming participants train for the event.

“I am very excited about the upcoming competition,” she said. “The Warrior Games is an excellent opportunity for warriors to overcome obstacles and focus on the things that they can do. It’s inspirational just to be a part of that.”

The Warrior Games are open to wounded servicemembers from all military branches who are still serving or have left the military and provide them an opportunity to compete against other wounded warriors.

“Warrior Games is an excellent opportunity to practice the mental, physical, and social skills that are needed to succeed in both sports and life,” Sisk said. “I want to do everything that I can to facilitate that for these warriors who deserve the best. I also want them to swim fast, win medals, and have fun.”

While working with the CSF-PREP, a program that provides a systematic way to build mental and emotional strength education methods from the fields of sport and performance psychology, Sisk has been able to become familiar with the swimming sport and plans to incorporate her swimming knowledge into helping warriors.

“I communicate with the team on a weekly basis and send them training goals, so that they are ready to compete,” Sisk added. “I have reached out to some other coaches for ideas and tips because I think it’s good to incorporate different ideas into the training goals.”

This year is the second year the Warrior Games will take place. The competition is a joint effort between the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Department of Defense.

“I am looking forward to meeting the warriors and helping to make life-long memories surrounding this competition,” Sisk said. “I’m focused on what the swimmers will gain from this experience.”

SGT James Arnold practices his swimming techniques for his upcoming competition at the Warrior Games.

Sisk, along with swimming participants in the Washington, DC, area, have been training every Tuesday for the swimming event at the Wilson Aquatic Center, Washington DC.

Although, Arnold is not in this area to train with his coach and other members of the Army swimming team, he continues to train with the support of his Family and friends.

“Knowing that my Family and friends are behind me 100 percent and that I am representing the Tennessee Army National Guard makes me proud,” Arnold said.

I’m Just Competitive as Hell

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

AW2 Veteran Joe Beimfohr channeled his competitiveness to earn an overall second place in the handcycling division at the 2011 Boston Marathon.

Competition. It’s a fundamental aspect of athleticism that for some pushes them to achieve higher levels of excellence. For retired AW2 Veteran and handcyclist Joe Beimfohr, it was his electric, adrenaline-fueled, competitiveness that pushed him towards the finish line at Monday’s 2011 Boston Marathon in Boston, MA. Beimfohr’s performance landed him second place overall in the handcycling division and a personal best record, completing the 26.2 miles in 1 hour and 34 minutes. When asked what pushed him across the finish line, Beimfohr responded, “I’m just competitive as hell.”

On the phone, Beimfohr made his journey to competitive handcycling sound easy, casually explaining to me about the events that led to his achievement on Monday. I soon learned that Beimfohr spent years training, learning how to handcycle, building his endurance, and strengthening his body and mind to compete. Beimfohr’s first exposure to handcycling occurred in 2005 while recovering at the Malone House at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC. After looking out of his window one afternoon, Beimfohr noticed several individuals on handcycles. Curiosity sparked Beimfohr’s interest. Achilles International, an organization Beimfohr currently races with, periodically visits the Malone House to share with Warriors in Transition various adaptive sports, including handcycling. During one of these visits, Beimfohr got bit by the bug. Handcycling soon became a way for Beimfohr to tap the competitive drive that was bottled-up during the initial stages of his recovery.

Competition doesn’t just manifest itself on the road, for Beimfohr it also manifested itself during recovery. As a single man with most of his Family in Tennessee, Beimfohr spent the majority of his time at Walter Reed alone. This set of circumstances drove Beimfohr to push himself to work through his recovery as a double amputee more quickly. As Beimfohr explained, “A lot of times at Walter Reed, I’d see loved ones do everything for their Soldiers, often when they were capable of doing a certain task themselves. I’d think to myself—why don’t you let them push their own wheelchair?” Recovery became a chance for Beimfohr to compete against himself. He viewed his therapy and medical treatments as ways to beat himself. Each of these personal competitions offered a high pay-off for Beimfohr—one step closer towards being a more independent individual.

Inspiration was another ingredient for Beimfohr’s success. When I asked him what advice he had for other Warriors in Transition who may be just beginning their road to recovery, he responded, “The best advice was given to me years ago. Take the time to figure out what you always wanted to do. This is a second chance to start over. If you have drive, there are people out there who will support you and make that dream come true. You just have to figure it out.” This advice led him to pursue numerous goals, including his intent to organize a handcycling team for the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, DC in October.

Handcycling is an adaptive sport that enables individuals and athletes to ride a bicycle only using their upper-bodies. According to the U.S. Handcycling Federation, it is one of the newest competitions at the Paralympic Games and was included in the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece in 2004. Handcycling is also one of the many ways athletes participate in the Warrior Games cycling competition. First held in 2010, the Warrior Games will be held in May and is a competition of wounded, ill, and injured Service Members and Veterans from all military services. Competitions such as the Boston Marathon are one of the many ways Warriors in Transition can prepare to become a Warrior Games athlete.

Motivated, Dedicated, and Inspired by Physical Fitness

By Melvin Taylor, AW2 Advocate

SFC Landon Ranker is a Continuing on Active Duty (COAD) Soldier who applies motivation from physical fitness to his everyday professional life.

SFC Landon Ranker is a Continuing on Active Duty (COAD) Soldier with 19 years of service. During those years, Ranker has held several positions throughout his military career and has faced many challenges, including a traumatic brain injury (TBI) he sustained during deployment. Nevertheless, Ranker currently continues to serve in the Army as the Battalion Enhance Warrior Physical Training NCOIC at Fort Campbell, KY. Ranker finds this to be his most rewarding job and one that is fueled by motivation he finds in physical fitness.

As a role model, SFC Ranker believes strongly that every wounded warrior should be able to do physical training within the limits of his or her profile.  He is a leader that leads from the front when it comes to physical fitness and made this apparent during last year’s Warrior Games.  As a Warrior Games competitor, he brought home two gold medals and one silver medal, competing in three grueling events: 440 Meter Track Relay, 200 Meter Free Style Relay, and the 50 Meter Breast Stroke.  

Later this month, Ranker will compete in a cycling race in Franklin, TN, cycling 35 miles in preparation for the upcoming Warrior Games Ultimate Challenge in May. The Ultimate Challenge consists of five events, including cycling. Ranker hopes that this will get him one step closer to his goal to be a Warrior Games “Ultimate Champion.”

What inspires me about Ranker is that during all of his success and challenges, his TBI has not slowed him down at all. In fact, instead of seeing his TBI as an obstacle, Ranker sees it as a motivator to inspire himself to go the extra mile.  He is not ashamed of his injury and constantly reminds others that if he can go the extra mile—they can too.  This winter he plans to compete in an adaptive skiing program in Colorado and plans to continue demonstrating how athleticism can help motivate progress in other areas of his life.

Sitting Volleyball Warrior Games Athletes Train in San Antonio

By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom

Ten Army wounded warrior athletes selected to the Army’s Warrior Games team are competing in an elite clinic hosted at the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC), formerly known as Brooke Army Medical Center, this weekend. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Soldiers and Veterans as well as Warrior Transition Unit Soldiers are receiving coaching and instruction from some of the world’s best sitting volleyball and U.S. Paralympic program coaches.

“We’re glad you are here and ready to practice, practice, and practice some more,” said Elliott Blake U.S. Army Volleyball Coach and U.S. Paralympic Coach. “Look around you. These are your teammates for the Warrior Games. Most of you were at our clinic in January in Oklahoma but you’ll notice there are only 10 of you from the large group of athletes who wanted to be here. Congratulations but you’ve got a lot of work to do over the next few days to further refine your skills.”

The Warrior Games is an athletic competition hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Paralympic Program. More than 220 Army, Marine Corps, Navy-Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations Soldiers will compete against each other in numerous sports at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO May 16-21, 2011 as part of the second Warrior Games competition to be held. In addition to the Department of Defense, several other organizations are working together to make the Games possible. The United Services Organization (USO), Ride 2 Recovery and corporate partners are teaming to make the athletic events special for all participating athletes.

Coach Blake was correct. Following today’s first day of training it was evident that the Army athletes were leaving it all on the floor. A couple needed an extra break and lots of water. “You just can’t drink enough water, your body needs it and the heat in San Antonio might be more that you are acclimated to.”

Correct again. Sunny San Antonio’s temperature reached 91 Fahrenheit. and the heat conditions inside SAMMC’s Jimmy Brought Fitness Center easily approached 100 Fahrenheit.

With Army athletes coming from as far as Fort Drum, NY where snowmen and igloos are likely the prevalent features this time of year, the weather is an adjustment. SSG Christian Hughes from Northern Regional Medical Command in Fort Drum likes the weather and isn’t complaining about experiencing spring earlier than normal—conditions like those he is experiencing in Texas are still months away, up north

In the 2010 inaugural Warrior Games, the Army Sitting Volleyball Team reached the championship game but lost in a nail-biter to the Marines. Coaches and players vow not to let that happen again in May.

“It really makes me train harder knowing we lost to the Marines last year,” said SPC Robert Nuss, Southern Regional Medical Command, Fort Benning, GA. “I’m a very competitive person and train hard for everything I do, so it only makes me train harder so we can go out and beat those guys!” Nuss knows what it is like to compete at Warrior Games. In 2010, he competed in Sitting Volleyball and several track events and was a near medalist for the Warrior Games top prize, Ultimate Champion.

This year he will compete in several track events and sitting volleyball. His training routine is high paced and includes running six days a week, biking four or five days a week as well as several days of weight training. “I stay motivated and keep my edge by eating the right foods and following my training regime. If I don’t feel like training one day, I tell myself that my competitors are out there training and if I don’t train, too, I’ll lose my edge. I can’t let that happen.”

Nuss’ experience and training excellence should serve him and his Army Warrior Games teammates well in Colorado.

After Day One, of repetitive drills, technical lessons, scrimmages, and coaches’ chalk talk sessions with the team by Blake and fellow coach Rik Mullane, everyone was getting into the groove. Their faces told their story best. They were tired with sore butts, backs, and arms—even though some were too proud to admit it.

“Hey, gather around,” said Blake as he quickly tracked down some ‘runaway’ balls that were afoot. “You’ve got to get serous here, I want to see the intensity that I know each and every one of you have. The thing is, I have you for a total of 19 hours of training at our clinic. Athletes on the U.S. Paralympic Sitting Volleyball Team intensely train for hundreds and hundreds of hours each year. I wish we had more time but we don’t. We’ve got to get the fundamentals right and use all of our time wisely.”

The camp will continue over the weekend with more training, drills and additional scrimmages and games with elite teams. Blake did his homework and set up games and joint training sessions with additional athletes that are training and competing for slots on the U.S. Paralympic team. “In sitting volleyball and other sports you rise to the level of the competition and the Army Team practicing and competing against other sitting volleyball players will be very beneficial.”

Army Sitting Volleyball Team athletes preparing for Warrior Games in San Antonio include:

SPC Peter Danielson, SRMC/Benning
SSG Christian Hughes, NRMC/Drum
SPC Robert Nuss, SRMC/Benning
SGT Ruben Pedro, SRMC/Gordon
SPC Zachariah Smith, SRMC/Stewart
Retired SGT Margaux Vair, Veteran
SGT Illja Zafiroski, SRMC/Benning
SPC Jose Alfaro, SRMC/SAMMC
SGT Giovonttie McLemore, SRMC/SAMMC
SPC Damion Peyton, SRMC/Gordon

In addition to sitting volleyball, Army wounded warrior athletes will compete in track and field, swimming, shooting, archery, cycling, wheelchair basketball and the ultimate warrior competition.

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…)

Army Wounded Warrior Athletes Aim to Dominate Shooting Competition at Warrior Games 2011

By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom

PFC Latoya McClain takes a shot during a shooting clinic at the Army Marksmanship Unit

Last week, Army wounded warrior marksmen took aim at becoming members of the Army’s 2011 Warrior Games team at a special shooting clinic conducted by the elite Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU). Throughout the week, warrior athletes learned shooting skills and techniques from some of the world’s finest instructors and shooters; AMU cadre include Olympic champions, world champions, and U.S. national champions who have responsibilities of training Soldiers and competing in world-class venues that highlight the Army’s expertise in all things shooting.

In both civilian and military marksmanship circles the AMU is recognized as the very best of the very best or “‘gold standard”–similar to the Army Golden Knights, Air Force Thunderbirds, or Navy Blue Angels.

In 2010, Army athletes took nearly every gold medal and the lion’s share of silver and bronze medals in numerous Warrior Games shooting events.  Building on that success will be difficult but with training, instruction, and mentorship from the AMU, MSG James Shiver, Warrior Transition Command (WTC) Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge of Adaptive Sports, believes the Army is raising the bar.

“The Army Marksmanship Unit has been extremely supportive of our Warrior Games shooters,” said Shiver. “In 2010, they hosted clinics and sent coaches and support staff to the Games. This year they are building on that even more. It is awe inspiring, quite frankly jaw dropping for our athletes to have this opportunity to learn from these outstanding shooters. I hope each will seize this opportunity and, hopefully, by working hard this week, we’ll ultimately improve on last year’s success against the other services.”

The second annual Warrior Games, scheduled for May 16-21, 2011, at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, 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.

One of the youngest prospects for the Warrior Games shooting team is PFC Latoya McClain from the Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Unit (WTU).  The South Carolina native was conducting physical training in stifling 125 degree weather in Kirkuk, Iraq, when she suffered a heat stroke that nearly killed her on May 31, 2010. Fortunately an Army medic was nearby to render prompt medical assistance.  Initially confined to a wheelchair as she learned to walk again, her recovery has included stints in Army hospitals in Balad, Iraq, Germany, and Texas. 

McClain’s focus on succeeding in this year’s Warrior Games is evident in her captivating smile and positive attitude.  “I never shot a weapon before basic training,” she said. “I kept messing up when it came to shooting, but my drill sergeant and the trainers were patient and worked with me. I paid attention and got better. I shot sharpshooter at Basic Training and then expert at AIT [Advanced Individual Training]. Shooting is fun and I really like the sport and I think I’m pretty good at it. I think the reason I do so well is that I follow instructions and do what I’m told.”

Her hard work and commitment to excel has paid off as McClain earned a silver medal during the clinic’s rifle competition shoot off. McClain wants to round out her stay in the Army and is looking at future options that will allow her to finish her education and possibly work in the medical field. She represents the many wounded warriors who have applied their diligence in athletics to other areas of their lives in order to achieve a successful transition post injury.  

Medalists in the AMU shooting clinic were

10-Meter Pistol

SSG Michael Strong, Fort Gordon WTU – Gold
SGT Erin Bell, Fort Knox WTU – Silver
SFC Benjamin Trescott, Fort Jackson WTU – Bronze

10-Meter Rifle

SSG Kory Irish, Fort Drum WTU – Gold
PFC Latoya McClain, Fort Bliss WTU – Silver
SFC Benjamin Trescott, Fort Jackson WTU – Bronze

WTC Exhibit Offers a Unique Perspective for Army Warrior Care

By Tim Poch, WTC Stratcom

As a representative of the Warrior Transition Command (WTC) who attended the 2011 Military Health System Conference at the Gaylord National Hotel in Washington, D.C last week, I had the pleasure of offering a unique perspective to the other exhibitors. On a giant flat screen monitor, WTC shared a video of Soldiers bumping, setting, and spiking a volleyball. As the camera panned below the Soldiers’ chests, viewers learn that the players are wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers sitting on the floor in an intense game of sitting volleyball.

For most of us a volleyball game would be a great way to get together and blow off some steam, but for these Soldiers the game has an added dimension of determination, resilience, and courage.  In short, this looping video revealed to the conference attendees the heart of the WTC message for Army warrior care–Soldier success through focused commitment.

Army medicine is state-of-the-art and a leader among civilian and military medical organizations worldwide. The goal of WTC is to create policies that work in conjunction with Army medicine to assist Soldiers in accomplishing their mission of healing and transition. In order to maintain the structure, military character, and goal-oriented behavior that drive Soldiers to succeed, Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) are now using a process called the CTP (Comprehensive Transition Plan). Using the CTP, each Warrior in Transition (WT), with the aid of their WTU cadre, develops a systematic and comprehensive plan outlining physical, career, emotional, social, family, and spiritual goals to aid their return to the force or successful transition to the civilian community.  

One way the Army aids WTs in the goal-setting process and helps them achieve success is through adaptive sports. These programs provide tangible physical results and help speed healing while improving wounded warrior health. The highlight of Army adaptive sports is the annual Warrior Games that features seven sports and over 200 wounded, ill, and injured athletes from all branches of service. Several WTU personnel stopped by the booth and asked for information about participating in this year’s games.

As Army warrior care develops into a fully integrated process to assist Soldiers in their mission to heal and transition, we fully expect interest and questions from the members of the Military Health System. The Warrior Transition Command is ready to provide answers and information to wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, their Families, Army leaders, military health professionals, and the public as it continues to support to the Army’s wounded warrior community.

Army 2011 Warrior Games Basketball Team Shapes Up

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

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SSG Shaw Alexander, SPC Craig Smith, SPC Lorena Pratt, CPL(R) Perry Price, MAJ Christopher Cooper, and 1LT Taylor Ward (left-to-right) huddle-up during their wheelchair basketball clinic at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Competition is something that resonates with each Soldier–a foundation for achievement and success. For a certain group of Army wounded warriors, it’s the way that 10 of them will have a chance to earn a spot on the 2011 U.S. Army Warrior Games Basketball Team.

Last weekend, 27 wounded warriors travelled from around the globe to the University of Texas–Arlington (UT–A) and participated in a basketball clinic with the UT–A Movin’ Mavs Basketball Team, one of the premier wheelchair basketball teams in the country. The clinic is one of the qualifying tournaments that will eventually determine the 2011 U.S. Army Warrior Games Basketball Team.

Last year, the U.S. Army Warrior Games Basketball Team won the silver medal in a fierce competition against the U.S. Marines. However for MSG James Shiver, who is the Army’s liaison for the Warrior Games, placing at Warrior Games is not the only goal. Shiver explains, “The Warrior Games, along with adaptive sports in general, offers wounded warriors the opportunity to continue to excel in athletics, while enabling them to succeed in other areas of their lives.”

A Department of Defense initiative with the U.S. Paralympics and the military branches, the Warrior Games offer wounded warriors the chance to compete against each other in numerous sports. Warrior Games athletes compete in 7 sports: wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, cycling, swimming, archery, shooting, and track and field.

Athletic competition is no stranger to Soldiers. The Warrior Games allows wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers to pursue their love of sports while excelling at something that can assist in physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Plus, who doesn’t love seeing Army beat Navy?

Soldiers interested in being considered for the U.S. Army’s 2011 Warrior Games Team can submit applications by contacting their chain of command. Soldiers in the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) can contact their AW2 Advocate for more information.

Admiral Mullen Kicks off Warrior Games 2011

By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom

Members of the Army's wheelchair basketball team display their silver medals following the Warrior Games matchup with Marines on May 13 2010, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

I was very fortunate to be with Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and 11 of last spring’s Warrior Games servicemember athletes from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force at a Pentagon press conference earlier this week.

Spirits were high and smiles were broad from the athletes who took time from their recovery and careers to join Admiral Mullen as he announced DoD’s continuing partnership with the U.S Olympic Committee (USOC) and the United Services Organizations (USO) for Warrior Games.

The Games will return to the USOC’s National Training Center (NTC) in Colorado on May 16–21, 2011. Mr. Charlie Huebner, the USOC Paralympics Chief welcomed wounded warriors from all branches of service to run, dribble, bike, or swim their way back to Colorado Springs for next year’s Games.  

The USOC will again host and manage the Games with assistance from corporate partner Deloitte LLC and an echelon of dedicated professional Olympic Committee staff and passionate volunteers. In addition, the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command (WTC) will continue to coordinate efforts to support Warrior Game Soldier athletes who will participate next spring.

I really enjoyed seeing the athletes exchange stories and re-acquaint themselves with fellow wounded warriors, competitors, and friends from across the country. No doubt the spirit of Warrior Games lives beyond the competitive venues that initially brought nearly 200 warrior athletes to Colorado this past spring.

Admiral Mullen reiterated throughout his remarks that the athletes who compete in the Warrior Games demonstrate that regardless of circumstances, physical fitness, and a passion to win will remain at the of core our Nation’s military culture. With continued focus on abilities, rather than disabilities, physical fitness and sports have proven to have a healing effect on the mind, the body, and soul.

As the cameras rolled and remarks were made about what Warrior Games meant to the athletes and Families, you could see the excitement building. Our nation’s finest welcomed the opportunity to tell the world about their experiences but by golly they sure wanted to rekindle that athletic and competitive spirit that brought them together in Colorado last spring.

As I watched our Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen talk about their shared Warrior Games experiences, it was heartfelt to see the bonds  they formed.  As U.S. Marine Master Sergeant and 2010 Warrior Games athlete Williams “Spanky” Gibson expressed during the conference, “Whether you won a medal or didn’t win a medal, whether your team was first or last, there was no better opportunity than for the 200 of us servicemembers to get together, compete in a safe environment, and have one of the best times of our lives, especially post-injury.”

To me, it was a real tearjerker–a flashback to The 2010 Warrior Games’ opening ceremony when servicemember athletes walked the National Training Center grounds in their colorful uniforms–a ceremony filled with the cheers and applause from the Colorado Springs community to honor their service and sacrifice.

Wounded warriors from all services with a desire to compete in the 2011 Games are encouraged to notify their chain of command as soon as possible.  The Army’s athlete nomination process will be released soon by the Warrior Transition Command.  Soldiers are encouraged to talk with their WTU squad leaders and about their interest in representing the Army next May.

Let the Games begin!

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