Wounded vets to participate in first warrior games

  • Published
  • By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
  • American Forces Press Service
Approximately 200 wounded active duty members and military veterans will compete in the inaugural Warrior Games May 10 to 14 in Colorado Springs, Colo., Defense Department officials announced Jan. 7.

The U.S. Olympic Committee will host the games, and events will include shooting, swimming, archery, track, discus, shot put, cycling, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball, said Army Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, the commander of the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command, at a Pentagon news conference.

Athletes will be recruited from each of the military services, including the Coast Guard, through an independent selection process. Many already participate in some kind of training with Paralympics coordinators, but the competitors also will train with Olympic and Paralympics coaches at the Olympic training facilities in Colorado for about a month before the actual competitions, General Cheek said.

The competition is open to military members and veterans with bodily injuries as well as mental wounds of war, such as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

The Army will be represented by 100 soldiers chosen out of a pool of almost 9,000 wounded warriors. The Marine Corps will send 50 competitors, while the Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard will send 25 each, General Cheeks said.

"The value of sports and athletic competition and the fact that you can get great satisfaction from what you do is really what we're after," he said. "And we're really looking for this opportunity to (grow) this program in May and have it get bigger and stronger."

The goal isn't necessarily to determine the best athletes, but rather to maximize wounded veterans' abilities, and to show them their true potential through competitive sports, he explained.

"While we've made enormous progress in all the military services in our warrior care, ... it's not enough," the general said. "And what we have to do with our servicemembers is inspire them to reach for and achieve a rich and productive future, to defeat their illness or injury to maximize their abilities and know that they can have a rich and fulfilling life beyond what has happened to them in service to their nation."

An Olympic-style event will challenge those servicemembers to prove to themselves that they have abilities within them that they can carry over into everyday life, the general added.

"Our hope is that, by doing this every year, we can extend that down into all of our warrior care programs ... of increasing adaptive sports and physical activity and defeating these wounds," he said. "From that, it becomes part of the life of that servicemember, and it will expand into their everyday life and all the things that they do."

Adaptive sports rehabilitation has proven time and again to have a positive, long-lasting effect on wounded warriors, said Charlie Huebner, the Paralympics chief for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Mr. Huebner noted that adaptive sports have positive effects on wounded veterans in their continued education, family life and in the work force, though that's not the Paralympics' goal.

"The outcomes that we see every day utilizing physical activity as part of the rehab process: higher self-esteem, lower stress levels, lower secondary medical conditions ... young men and women pursuing higher education at a higher level, young men and women being employed at a higher level. Those are outcomes we see every day with the population we serve," he said.

Since 2003, the Paralympics have worked in partnership with the Veterans Affairs Department, providing adaptive sports therapy to veterans.

Through the annual Warrior Games, Huebner said, he hopes to expand their standing commitment to veterans and servicemembers.

"Our armed forces are the best in the world," he said. "And our athletes want to be the best in the world at the Olympic and Paralympics games. That is a core part of what we do at the U.S. Olympic Committee.

For more information or to request an application, Airmen can contact the Air Force Wounded Warrior office at 800-581-9437 or e-mail afwounded.warrior@randolph.af.mil. The deadline for applications is Jan. 15.