Tag Archives: Warrior Games

Service members show mettle at Warrior Games

NCO Journal report

After a week of intense international competition, the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games drew to a close Tuesday at West Point, New York, with Team Army winning the wheelchair basketball championship, followed by a medal ceremony, a concert and fireworks.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley reminded the audience that the competitors — representing the Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard, Marines, U.S. Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom armed forces — were the best of the best.

“This is a tough competition,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize what this competition means. First of all, you had to walk the hallowed grounds of the battlefield or you had to get injured or sick in the service of your nation. That alone makes you the best of the best.”

Army Sgt. Monica “Mo” Southall prepares to serve in a sitting volleyball match at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)
Army Sgt. Monica “Mo” Southall prepares to serve in a sitting volleyball match at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)

Milley noted that the Warrior Games competitors had earned their places at the games by competing against a field of 2,000 to 3,000 other athletes at regional and service-level trials in track and field, swimming, shooting, archery, sitting volleyball, cycling and wheelchair basketball.

“They had to meet Paralympic standards,” Milley said. “The coaches, the staff, the referees were all professionals and former Paralympians. The standards were high. This is a tough competition.

“There’s not an athlete on this field who got there by themselves,” he said. “They got there because of their families, their caregivers, their medical professionals, their coaches, their friends and countless others. You’re a tremendously inspiring group of people. Thank you so much for your spirit of competition and your resiliency.”

Members of the U.S. Special Operations Command Warrior Games team held up comedian Jon Stewart and his son 11-year-old son, Nate, during opening ceremonies of the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)
Members of the U.S. Special Operations Command Warrior Games team held up comedian Jon Stewart and his son 11-year-old son, Nate, during opening ceremonies of the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)

From June 15 to 21, wounded, ill and injured athletes competed for gold, silver and bronze medals, pushing through injuries, getting engaged and reconnecting with friends. For some, this was their last Defense Department Warrior Games, and their next competition will be the Invictus Games. For others, the road to the Paralympics is just beginning.

It was the last Warrior Games for medically retired Army Sgt. Monica “Mo” Southall, but she ended with a bang — she beat her personal record in the discus to win gold, took home gold in the shot put and was part of the bronze-winning Army sitting volleyball team.

“I knew it was going to be pretty emotional, and it was, when I threw the discus for the last time [and] when I threw shot put for the last time,” she said. “It’s kind of a sad ending, but not really, because I know what I’ve accomplished here. I’m thankful, and I plan on finding a way to give back to others.”

Southall’s family was there to support her throughout her final day of competition. “It’s been a very emotional day, said her aunt, Mary Ward, who spent her 60th birthday cheering on her niece. “I’ve had my eye on her and didn’t know how she was going to be affected this last day. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

Southall’s wife, Tempestt, said it was emotional for her, because she knows how much the Warrior Games mean to Monica.

“I know how much it means to her to come out and compete and how emotional it was going to be for her to get out there and give it her all and just do extraordinary like she did,” she said. “She loves to be with her teammates. I’m just very proud that she has had the opportunity to do it for as long as she did, and she still has the support from us.”

Army Sgt. Monica “Mo” Southall won gold medals in discus and shot put in the track and field events at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)
Army Sgt. Monica “Mo” Southall won gold medals in discus and shot put in the track and field events at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)

Southall has earned several medals at the DoD Warrior Games, Invictus Games and Valor Games throughout the years. She said she hopes to compete in the Invictus Games again, mainly for powerlifting.

“I made a mental mistake that’s going to haunt me, so I have to have a chance to redeem myself, so I’d like to do one more just for powerlifting,” she said with a smile. “I’d like to do other events, but that’s the main event I’m chasing.”

The final Warrior Games competition of the week was wheelchair basketball, and Army retained its title, dominating Team Marine Corps 62-23 for the gold.

Though the athletes felt a sense of accomplishment with the medals, most of them said their biggest takeaway from the week was the sense of camaraderie and friendship. This year, the Warrior Games added Heart of the Team awards. These were awarded to one member on each team who best exemplified the camaraderie of the sport. The teams chose whom received the awards and surprised each recipient.

The recipients were medically retired Army Sgt. Ryan Major, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dakota Boyer, medically retired Navy Airman Austin Chance Field, medically retired Air Force Capt. Chris Cochrane, SOCOM Navy Lt. Ramesh Haytasingh and Royal Marine Justin Montague.

A Team Army competitor for the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games helps Sgt. Ryan Major off the bus at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, West Point, New York. (DoD photo)
A Team Army competitor for the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games helps Sgt. Ryan Major off the bus at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, West Point, New York. (DoD photo)

Boyer said he was surprised to receive the award.

“It was the best feeling I’ve felt in a long time,” he said. “I was cheering my teammates on to win and to do good things. I was never not going to cheer for them. This event was one of the greatest feelings in the world. You have a full team behind you and support. You’re never going to find the love like this anywhere else and people who know what you’re going through.”

Major told Fox News that adaptive sports helped save him after an explosion took both his legs.

“It was really dark for me, going from being completely independent, a true athlete, to losing my legs,” he said. “Then I started getting into sports, and it was like I could see the light — very dim, but as I pushed forward, it got brighter. And eventually, I was able to touch the light.”

Major won six medals, including two golds, in track and field events and also medaled in a cycling event and a swimming event.

The Warrior Games began last week when Army Capt. Kelly Elmlinger, with help from comedian Jon Stewart, lit the official torch during the event’s opening ceremonies.

“Being selected to light the torch is as much an honor and privilege as competing for Team Army,” Elmlinger said. “Finishing my Warrior Games career as Team Army captain and lighting the torch at the opening ceremony is by far the most amazing experience. It’s humbling to see the support from the Warrior Transition Command throughout my time on Team Army, and I graciously thank them for allowing me to participate as torch bearer in this event.”

About 250 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans competed in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball at the academy.

U.S. Army veteran Sgt. Ana Manciaz of Los Lunas, N.M., and U.S. Army veteran Sgt. Stefan LeRoy of Santa Rosa, Calif., run track at Shea Stadium in preparation for the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)
U.S. Army veteran Sgt. Ana Manciaz of Los Lunas, N.M., and U.S. Army veteran Sgt. Stefan LeRoy of Santa Rosa, Calif., run track at Shea Stadium in preparation for the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)

Stewart said during the opening ceremony that he’s uplifted by the tenacity displayed by the wounded, ill and injured athletes.

Considering the Orlando tragedy, he said, “This has been a difficult week for what I like to call ‘Team Civilization.’ The horrors we witnessed can make you feel as though you’ve lost faith in our ability to persevere through those times.

“When I say I’m in need of your support, there’s almost nothing in this world that gives me more support than witnessing the tenacity, the resilience and the perseverance of our wounded warriors in their endeavors,” he said. “They’re the ones that make me feel like we’re going to be OK.”

Stewart, who attended events throughout the competition, said he brought his 11-year- old son, Nate, so he could meet the wounded warriors.

“People ask me, ‘How do you talk to your kids about violence that occurs in this world?’” he said. “And I realized it’s time to stop telling him about the rare individuals who do harm and tell him more about the people whose names we don’t know and whose resilience and tenacity we can witness. That’s why I’m here today. I’m here to show him that the depth and strength of those whose names you may never know is the depth and strength of this country, and is the depth and strength that will allow us to overcome.”

Stewart, who has accompanied several USO tours overseas in combat zones, also has visited many times with wounded warriors at military hospitals.

“I’ve seen what these individuals have to go through. They have faced the worst that humanity has to throw at them, and they decided not to allow themselves to be defined by that act but to be defined by their actions following that act, their actions of getting up off that floor. I’ve seen the blood, sweat and tears they’ve gone through to get here ─ and the profanity. If you go to the physical therapy room at Walter Reed, there’s a lot of profanity,” he said with a smile. “They do it with pride, and when they fall, their colleagues and their loved ones pick them up and don’t let them give up, so I applaud the families and the caregivers here today.”

Army Staff Sgt. Eric Pardo competes in discus at the track and field events at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)
Army Staff Sgt. Eric Pardo competes in discus at the track and field events at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)

More than 40 current and former members of the Army competed in this year’s Warrior Games, and more than half of them are noncommissioned officers.

Staff Sgt. Eric Pardo, of San Antonio, Texas, experienced multiple injuries while serving as a combat medic, including to his ankle and left knee, a bulging disc, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.

“I was told by my orthopedic surgeon, who was also a triathlete, that I could no longer run or upright cycle again in 2012,” Pardo said. “He told me to try swimming and recumbent cycling. I kind of scoffed at that because, to me, that wasn’t really physically demanding. I almost took it as an insult. He took away everything I did for physical fitness. I couldn’t just pick up a pair of sneakers and just run anymore or take my cycling shoes and my bike and just go riding.”

But after a couple of weeks, “I decided to give this cycling and swimming thing a shot,” he said.

Pardo’s main events during this year’s Warrior Games were archery, cycling, swimming and sitting volleyball. He also participated in track and field events.

In 2014, Pardo participated in the Army Trials held at West Point and won the gold medal for recumbent cycling with a 2-minute lead.

“Cycling helped me heal,” Pardo said. “Before that, I was focused on what I couldn’t do.

After I started cycling, I felt like I was back. It helps me get rid of the agitation; it helps me push through a lot of the physical barriers. I don’t feel like I’m broken anymore. I’m not a defective piece of equipment. Look at what I have done.

“When I’m riding and swimming, you can’t text or call me,” he said. “Whatever it is, it can wait till later; I’m in my zone.”

U.S. Army Reservist Staff Sgt. Ashley Anderson, who recently competed in British Prince Harry’s Invictus Games, also competed in the Warrior Games.

Anderson suffers from a herniated disc in her lower back and heart problems, “along with behavioral health issues,” she said.

Anderson suffered the injuries during a second deployment in Guantanamo Bay and was introduced to adaptive sports while recovering at Fort Riley, Kansas. She also competed in the 2015 Warrior Games.

This year, she participated won three medals in swimming events and another for her role on the sitting volleyball team.

Army Capt. Kelly Elmlinger broke the meet record in the recumbent cycle at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)
Army Capt. Kelly Elmlinger broke the meet record in the recumbent cycle at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)

But these Games aren’t just about friendly competition among injured active and veteran service members from the branches, Anderson told Channel 12-KEYC in Mankato, Minnesota, near where she is from. It provides a community.

“It’s hard, you know, outside of here to talk about our injuries with other people,” she said. “It’s easier to talk, to get help, see how other deal with their recovery and get advice from them.”

Anderson told KYEC, “I want to achieve a personal best but mostly, the important thing is going out here, having fun and meeting everybody else from the branches and just having a great experience.”

When Milley declared the games closed, he handed the Warrior Games torch off to Navy Vice Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander of Navy Installations Command, to symbolize the start of the run-up for the next games, which the Navy will host in Chicago next June.

A C-17 Globemaster III from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, conducted a flyover. Actor Gary Sinise performed a concert with his Lt. Dan Band for the athletes and their families, and then a fireworks display closed out the evening.

But this is just one major step in the road to recovery for wounded, ill and injured service members.

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Allan Armstrong, of Fort Hood, Texas, competed in archery and credited the Warrior Transition Battalions for getting him into archery.

“Adaptive sports gave me the confidence to recover,” Armstrong said. “It takes time to go through this process.”

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Gregory Quarles, from Ringgold, Georgia, also competed in archery events.

“I picked shooting archery at adaptive sports at the WTB,” Quarles said. “If there’s someone out there that needs it, adaptive sports is a lifesaver. Get out there and do what you got to do. You’re not alone.”

Shannon Collins of Defense Department News contributed to this article.

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.”

  • Army Trials at Fort Bliss
  • Army Trials at Fort Bliss
  • CA4_6467copy
  • CA4_6476
  • CA4_6591
  • CA4_6417
  • CA4_6428
  • CA4_6497
  • CA4_6537
  • CA4_6559copy
  • Army Trials at Fort Bliss
  • Army Trials at Fort Bliss

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

Army takes title at Warrior Games

NCO Journal staff report

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — The Army ruled almost every category on its way to grabbing the Chairman’s Cup for the second straight year at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games held at this historic Marine Corps base.

“That very first event, cycling, is what really brought this team together,” said Sgt. 1st Class Keoki Smythe, the noncommissioned officer in charge at the Alexandria-based Warrior Transition Command.

“Then our track athletes and swimmers gave us a huge lead, and our archery team had a gold medal sweep,” the Seattle native said.

Other events included wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball and shooting. Wheelchair rugby had been slated as an exhibition sport but fell victim to hasty schedule changes after two days’ severe downpours and tornado activity in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Begun in 2010 to test — and showcase — the resilience and adaptability of combat-wounded, ill and injured Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, the first several games were dominated by the Marine Corps before the Army surged to a victory last year.

This time, it was a Soldiers’ competition from start to finish as the Army notched 69 gold medals to the Marines’ 47.

The Army out-medaled all competitors in the silver and bronze categories, as well, rolling to 141 points for the Chairman’s Cup over the Marine Corps’ 96. The Air Force, with 65 points total, finished next. The British Armed Forces had 62 points, Special Operations Command had 34 and the Navy/Coast Guard team finished with 30.

Led by team captain Frank Barroqueiro and assistant team captain Samantha Goldenstein, the Army was presented with the monster-sized Chairman’s Cup by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Army chief of staff.

In a touch of friendly rivalry, the Army beat a Marine Corps contingent in the presence of the hosts’ service chief, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford. Like Dempsey before him, Dunford has already been tapped by President Barack Obama to ascend to the chairman’s job.

But Dunford was quick to minimize the competition piece in favor of underscoring the healing power and heartfelt nurture brought to bear through the athletes’ families, friends, physical therapists and other caregivers — many of whom were in the bleachers for the closing ceremonies.

Smythe also alluded to an almost spiritual intangible that superseded scores, times and photo finishes.

“Truly, it is an honor, I feel very fortunate, just to be around these Soldiers, the way they support each other,” he said.

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)

Wounded Soldiers compete in Army Trials for a shot at the Warrior Games

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal
Retired Sgt. Scotty Hasting prepares for the archery event of the Army Trials on March 31 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Retired Sgt. Scotty Hasting prepares for the archery event of the Army Trials on March 31 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

Retired Sgt. Scotty Hasting closed his eyes, blocking out the surrounding distractions. He took a deep breath and focused on the feel of the bow in his hand before opening his eyes and letting his arrow fly during the Army Trials on March 31 at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Hasting was one of about 75 active-duty Soldiers and veterans who competed from March 29 to April 2 in cycling, shooting, archery, track and field, wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball and swimming for spots on the Army team headed to the Department of Defense Warrior Games in June. Only 40 athletes will be selected to defend the Army’s title against the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Special Operations Command during the competition at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Va.

The Marines won the Chairman’s Cup, presented to the top overall service branch, at the first four Warrior Games, but the Army took the cup for the first time in 2014.

“You know the Marine Corps makes a lot of noise, but we speak through performance,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew T. Brady, command sergeant major for the Warrior Transition Command. “They’ll have home turf, but we look to keep our cup.”

Recovery through sports

The trials, conducted by the Warrior Transition Command, 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.

Master Sgt. Shawn Vosburg, assigned to the WTB at Fort Bliss, takes aim during the rifle event of the Army Trials on March 30 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Master Sgt. Shawn Vosburg, assigned to the WTB at Fort Bliss, takes aim during the rifle event of the Army Trials on March 30 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

“Our adaptive reconditioning program is a critical part of warriors’ transition,” Brady said. “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.”

Mentoring others

Spc. Sydney Davis, assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Va., prepares to throw the shotput during the Army Warrior Trials on April 1 at Fort Bliss.  (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Spc. Sydney Davis, assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Va., prepares to throw the shotput during the Army Warrior Trials on April 1 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

Many of the NCOs leaving the Warrior Transition Battalion have found a new use for their leadership skills within civilian and veteran adaptive sports programs, Brady said.

“In the Army, we make leaders,” he said. “That’s just what we do. And these civilian organizations have individuals who grew up with challenges, were born with challenges or may have gotten it by the result of some kind of trauma. … Now, our Soldier is going to have the opportunity as a veteran to be in this same group with them and provide mentorship – they will be able to use those leadership skills to be a mentor to a young child, for example, who has never known what it is like to walk.”

Training for the Warrior Games has helped Hasting recover from the 10 gunshot wounds he suffered in Afghanistan – five in the shoulder and five in the hip – and he is eager to help others, he said, to overcome the challenges he knows too well.

“The NCO inside of me wants to help all these other people who are down,” Hasting said. “The values that are instilled in us as NCOs, the way that we are programmed – it’s not about us; it’s more about trying to help everyone else out.

“If you’re having troubles, I’ve been there. It’s hard to get back up and back at it. But it will work out better in the long run if you just get up and do something. As an NCO, I try to push that.”

If he is chosen for the team, this will be Hasting’s second year at the Warrior Games, and he said he seeks out opportunities to mentor others wanting to shoot competitively.

“Archery is my favorite – when everything else is going on, for the time that you are shooting, it’s just you and that bow,” he said. “Nothing else matters. That’s why I gravitate toward archery. It’s that outlet for me.”

A new normal

Sgt. Joshua Palmer can attest to the life-changing aspect of an adaptive sports program. For him, smaller injuries built upon one another, eventually leading to a debilitating condition that would end his military aspirations. During the Special Forces selection process, Palmer shattered his ankles and had to have both completely reconstructed.

Staff Sgt. Max Hasson, assigned to the WTB in Fort Carson, Colo., throws during the seated discus event of the Army Trials on April 1 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Max Hasson, assigned to the WTB in Fort Carson, Colo., throws during the seated discus event of the Army Trials on April 1 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

“You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” he said. “When you spend eight months on bed rest, it’s a really humbling experience. If I wanted something to eat, I would literally have to low-crawl to the kitchen and sit on the floor by the fridge and eat an apple.”

Palmer had to accept that he could no longer be an engineer deep-sea diver. He would never join Special Forces. His career had come to a halt.

The adaptive sports program gave him his life back.

“I never thought I would be this active again,” he said. “Never.”

He went from not being able to walk to competing in almost every event of the Army Trials. The experience taught him a lot, he said, about the kind of leadership a Soldier needs while recovering. Encouragement is key, he said, but it is also important to not push an individual too far.

“If an NCO has a good Soldier who gets hurt, he or she needs to allow that Soldier time to recover,” he said. “Listen to him. Be genuine, and take the time to get to know him. Know his 100 percent, and then know his injury 100 percent. And be respectful of that, because you can hurt that Soldier in the long run if you push him to be too active.”

Palmer is retiring soon, but he said if he were going back into his field, he would take a more active role in his Soldiers’ health and well-being.

“I would be more involved,” Palmer said. “I would go with them to their initial appointments, follow up with their doctors. I’d get reports from their doctors on how they are doing, so that the way I talk to and encourage the Soldier is in-line with the doctor’s recommendations. I would be much more respectful and understanding of that Soldier’s recovery, because now I have been there.”

Sgt. Kawaiola Nahale, assigned to the 311th Signal Command, swims the 25-meter breaststroke during the Army Trials on April 2 at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Sgt. Kawaiola Nahale, assigned to the 311th Signal Command, swims the 25-meter breaststroke during the Army Trials on April 2 at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)