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Wounded warriors compete in the Army Trials for spots in the 2016 Warrior Games

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

About 125 wounded, ill and injured active-duty Soldiers and Army veterans from across the country competed March 6-10 in the Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas. The athletes are seeking the opportunity to represent Team Army at the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games, which will be held June 14-22 at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

During the week of competition, wounded warriors competed in archery, cycling, track and field, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming and wheelchair basketball. Coaches and leaders will now assess the results, and the chosen athletes will receive an official invitation to join Team Army. Approximately 250 athletes representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Special Operations Command will compete in the DoD Warrior Games this year.

Recovery through sports

The trials are part of the Army Warrior Care and Transition program, which aids in the recovery of wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans as they transition back into the force or the civilian community.

“Our adaptive reconditioning program is a critical part of warriors’ transition,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew T. Brady, command sergeant major for the Warrior Transition Command, in an interview with the NCO Journal last year. “It’s not just a sports program. It’s a program of activity in support of the surgeon general’s Performance Triad — sleep, proper nutrition and activity. For many of these Soldiers, this is kind of their ‘new norm’ — picking up activities they may have never tried before. It’s a new outlet. So if you look at the shooting, it takes concentration, the ability to block out distractions, a great amount of discipline — and these are all things that set you up for other tasks in life.”

In addition to aiding in their physical and mental recovery, these sports give Soldiers a new passion and something to look forward to doing when they leave the military, Brady said. Veterans Affairs and civilian organizations offer adaptive sports programs all over the nation, and sponsors often help defray the cost. Transition coordinators within every Warrior Transition Unit work to connect Soldiers with these organizations when they leave, Brady said, as should NCOs across the Army as they help injured and ill Soldiers prepare for life outside the military.

“We have them for maybe two years, but these Soldiers will be veterans for the rest of their lives,” Brady said. “We have got to set them up for success down the road.

“I hope NCOs realize I only have a certain number of these individuals in this Integrated Disability Evaluation System process — I only have a fraction of them. The majority of them are out in the force. They are out in the force and being led by NCOs, and as they go through the challenges of recovery, these same sports are available to them. What I need NCOs to do is to support this type of activity because that individual is going to leave our military, and we don’t want them becoming sedentary. We don’t want them leaving and feeling like they don’t have something to look forward to. I need NCOs’ support.”

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  • Army Trials at Fort Bliss
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  • Army Trials at Fort Bliss
  • Army Trials at Fort Bliss

(U.S. Army photos and photos by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

Athletes on Army team remain confident as they prepare for Warrior Games

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

Wounded warrior athletes on the Army team are more confident than ever that they will take home the Chairman’s Cup again this year at the conclusion of the Department of Defense Warrior Games, which will take place from June 19-28 at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Va.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith, a member of the Army team, swims laps during training for the 2014 Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Kaily Brown / U.S. Army)
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith, a member of the Army team, swims laps during training for the 2014 Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Kaily Brown / U.S. Army)

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith, who this year will compete in the games for the second time, said there is no doubt in his mind that the Army will leave the games again with the cup, which is awarded to the service branch with the highest medal total. “Last year was the first year that we won the Chairman’s Cup, so I’m definitely looking forward to competing against the other branches and bringing that trophy home again.”

Smith is among the 40 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans picked to defend the Army’s title against the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command and the British armed forces. The athletes were selected from about 75 veterans and active-duty Soldiers who competed in March during the Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas, in cycling, shooting, archery, track and field, wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball and swimming.

Smith, who will compete in swimming, track, field, cycling and sitting volleyball, said he speaks for the whole team when he says he is proud to have been selected.

“It means everything to me to represent the Army at the Warrior Games, because I believe in the Army. If it wasn’t for the Army, I wouldn’t be the type of man I am today. I wouldn’t be the father that I am today. I wouldn’t be the friend I am today. So to be able to represent something I truly believe in and love is an honor.”

This will be the first year that the games are hosted by a service branch instead of at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Though the majority of the crowd in Quantico will be cheering on the Marine Corps, Smith said he and his teammates are not worried.

“That makes it that much sweeter – to beat them in their own house,” Smith said. “I can’t wait to smash them again and look them in the eyes and tell them that we beat them on their home turf. I’m looking forward to that.”

Recovery through sports

The athletes train for the games as part of the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command’s  Army Warrior Care and Transition program, which aids in the recovery of wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans as they prepare themselves for life back in the force or as civilians.

Smith retrieves a volleyball during practice for the 2014 Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo by Spc. Charles M. Bailey / U.S. Army)
Smith retrieves a volleyball during practice for the 2014 Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo by Spc. Charles M. Bailey / U.S. Army)

Smith is the first Soldier with an above-the-elbow amputation to remain on active duty, and he credits the sports program for his success.

In 2011, Smith’s motorcycle was rear-ended. He flew over a freeway median, then was hit by an oncoming truck before crashing into the ground. He is blessed to be alive, Smith said, and is grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve.

“If it wasn’t for the Warrior Transition Command and the Warrior Games, and everything they provide, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in now,” Smith said.

In December, Smith began his duties as a recruiting center commander in Little Rock, Ark. He is in charge of 25 NCO recruiters, and said he is aware of how much they look up to him. He hopes that, through his example, they will see that an injury in no way lessens a leader’s influence.

“No matter your situation – whether it is physical, mental, emotional or whatever the case may be – Soldiers still look up to you,” Smith said. “If you are an NCO, a noncommissioned officer, you are still supposed to lead from the front – no matter what. That is my whole reason for coming back to active duty. I’m a leader. I’m a senior NCO. I didn’t make E7 by sleeping. The Army instilled in me the leadership skills that I have, and I want to continue to lead.”

Always striving for a new goal

Even after all Smith has accomplished, he has not stopped creating fresh goals for himself.

He hopes to one day work for the Warrior Transition Command to recruit other athletes, set up camps and motivate wounded warriors. He said he knows that if they can be inspired to give it their best, they will be competitive in their sports, in their recovery and in life.

“If you can learn to swim with one arm, learn to run with a prosthetic, if you can tackle that goal and defeat that, any other obstacle that comes your way in life, you are going to take that same approach, and just know that you can do it,” Smith said.

Smith is also still striving toward new goals as an athlete. He has been training to join the USA Skeleton Sled team, and is determined to take home the title of “Ultimate Warrior” from next year’s Warrior Games.

“I would have to place in every event they offer. It’s something I wanted to go for this year, but because I am working in recruiting, I didn’t have the ability to go to any shooting camps. Next year, that is definitely my goal. I will be the Ultimate Warrior next year. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Following is a list of athletes on the 2015 Army team. The list is subject to change. For more information and to view coach and team-member bios, click here.

·         Staff Sgt. Ashley Anderson, Fort Riley, Kan.

·         Spc. Anthony Atemon, Fort Bragg, N.C.

·         Staff Sgt. Thomas Ayers, Clarksville, Tenn.

·         Spc. Dustin Barr, Fort Bragg, N.C.

·         Capt. Frank Barroqueiro, Gainesville, Ga.

·         Capt. Steven Bortle, Pearl City, Hawaii

·         Spc. Terry Cartwright, Fort Belvoir, Va.

·         Spc. Laurel Cox, Fort Belvoir, Va.

·         Spc. Sydney Davis, Fort Belvoir, Va.

·         1st Lt. Kelly Elmlinger, Joint Base San Antonio

·         Staff Sgt. Randi Gavell, Oklahoma City, Okla.

·         Sgt. 1st Class Samantha Goldenstein, Saint Robert, Miss.

·         Sgt. Colton Harms, Fort Riley, Kan.

·         Sgt. Sean Hook, Summerville, S.C.

·         Sgt. Blake Johnson, Bethesda, Md.

·         Staff Sgt. Sean Johnson, Aberdeen, S.D.

·         Sgt. Kawaiola Nahale, Fort Shafter, Hawaii

·         Spc. Chasity Kuczer, Fort Knox, Ky.

·         Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper, San Antonio, Texas

·         Spc. Stefan Leroy, Bethesda, Md.

·         Staff Sgt. Monica Martinez, Bethesda, Md.

·         Staff Sgt. Andrew McCaffrey, Arlington, Va.

·         Staff Sgt. Michael McPhall, Bethesda, Md.

·         Staff Sgt. Billy Meeks, Las Cruces, N.M.

·         Cpl. Mathew Mueller, Fort Carson, Colo.

·         Master Sgt. Rhoden Galloway, San Antonio, Texas

·         Staff Sgt. Eric Pardo, San Antonio, Texas

·         1st Lt. Christopher Parks, Fort Hood, Texas

·         Staff Sgt. Timothy Payne, Raleigh, N.C.

·         Cpl. Jasmine Perry, Fort Campbell, Ky.

·         Sgt. Zedrik Pitts, Birmingham, Ala.

·         Spc. Haywood Range, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

·         Capt. Will Reynolds, Bethesda, Md.

·         Staff Sgt. Alexander Shaw, Clarksville, Tenn.

·         Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Sifuentes, Fort Riley, Kan.

·         Staff Sgt. Monica Southall, Henrico, Va.

·         Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith, Little Rock, Ark

·         Sgt. Patrick Timmins, Colorado Springs, Colo.

·         Sgt. Nicholas Titman, Fort Carson, Colo.

·         Sgt. Ricardo Villalobos, Winston Salem, N.C.

Coaches and athletes huddle before basketball practice during the Army Trials at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, on March 28, 2015. (Photo by EJ Hersom / DoD News)
Coaches and athletes huddle before basketball practice during the Army Trials at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, on March 28, 2015. (Photo by EJ Hersom / DoD News)

Face of Defense: Soldier Prepares for Warrior Games

By BENNY ONTIVEROS
U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command

Army Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper is using adaptive sports as a bridge for her transition to civilian life.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper takes a moment to study the practice track before an Army Trials cycling practice event at Fort Bliss, Texas, March 24, 2015. About 80 seriously wounded ill and injured service members and veterans from across the country are competing for Army team spots in the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games. (U.S. Army photo by Benny Ontiveros)
Army Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper takes a moment to study the practice track before an Army Trials cycling practice event at Fort Bliss, Texas, March 24, 2015. About 80 seriously wounded ill and injured service members and veterans from across the country are competing for Army team spots in the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games. (U.S. Army photo by Benny Ontiveros)

Kuiper, assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, suffered a head injury that proved to be challenging, but through the Army physical fitness and adaptive sports program, her goals are quickly being reached. She’ll be involved in the Army trials being held March 30 through April 3 at Fort Bliss, Texas, in preparation for the 2015 Warrior Games slated June 19-28 at Quantico Marine Corps Base, Virginia.

The trials are conducted by the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command, based in Alexandria, Virginia. Kuiper is one of about 80 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans from across the country participating in events including shooting, swimming, archery, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, track and field, and Kuiper’s favorite, cycling.

Kuiper is involved in two scheduled training events, but she participated in cycling practice March 24 to “relax my head injury,” she said.

“Cycling is relaxing to me,” Kuiper added, “and I can forget about everything else.”

Focusing Her Energy

Finding ways to recover from injuries can be difficult for wounded service members, but Kuiper focused her energy on cycling, which will prepare her for her other training events such as track and field. She quickly acclimated to cycling and safely stretched her muscles before taking a cycle ride on the approved tank trail.

The challenging part was learning new cycling techniques from the cycling coach. “The cycling lessons are new and insightful,” she said.

Cycling coach Jim Pensereyes, from San Diego, taught Kuiper and other wounded warriors to ride their cycles correctly through the turns on the practice trail.

Better With Each Practice Run

“It’s an honor and absolutely amazing to see these brave individuals cycle through the course and even better to see when they take my advice,” he said. “They just get better and better with each practice run.”

Kuiper and other wounded warriors adjusted to this new method despite the challenges it presented. By the end of the practice, they cycled with ease. Several cycling coaches were on hand to help them learn proper riding techniques.

“Being here is instrumental to my well-being,” Kuiper said, “and by interacting with other wounded warriors, it brings great joy to me and puts a huge smile to my face.”