Assistant VA secretary, U.S. Olympians join veterans on ski slopes

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
  • Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
The assistant secretary for Veterans Affairs and two U.S. Olympic athletes joined each other on the slopes during the 24th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic March 31 here.

VA Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth, Bode Miller and Casey Puckett skied with the veterans as part of the weeklong event.

Ms. Duckworth, a disabled veteran herself, was an UH-60 Blackhawk pilot in the Army when a rocket-propelled grenade landed in her lap during a flight north of Baghdad, Iraq, in 2004. She lost both of her legs and partial use of her right arm. She continues to serve in the National Guard.

She skied for the first time in her life at the NDVWSC in 2007.

"All of the volunteers and instructors here are great," Ms. Duckworth said. "They literally have decades of experience. It really is a labor of love from all the instructors and volunteers here and I get to benefit from all of it just like all the other veterans."

Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller, who has an adaptive ski program as part of his foundation, came out to show his support for the veterans as well.

"These guys are out here digging it out, trying to charge and that's what makes you a good skier," Mr. Miller said. "It also carries over into every other aspects of your life."

"I'm just blown away at some of the stuff these guys will try," said Mr. Puckett, a five-time Olympic Alpine skier. "It's amazing. They go 100 percent."

"We're just out here to show these guys a good time, maybe a couple of pointers and just have some fun," Mr. Puckett said.

Although the veterans and Olympians were able to enjoy and learn from each other on the slopes, the purpose of the event was about more than skis and smiles.

"This event is important for two things," Ms. Duckworth said. "It helps out the 400 veterans who are here. This is a personal goal for them. This is rehabilitation this is getting them back to normal life. This is also a program that surges technology, motivates and spurs this type of program around the country. When these vets go home, they take their experiences (from) here and hopefully more partnerships will develop with disabled sports programs that won't only help veterans but the disabled people in their community."