COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AFNS) -- Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein spoke about teamwork and resiliency during the opening ceremony of the Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, June 2, 2018.
“There’s this old saying, ‘Age wrinkles the body but quitting wrinkles the soul,’” said Goldfein. “And while all of us grow older, not all of us grow stronger as we age. The athletes and warriors we celebrate this week show us how to grow stronger over time as they conquer the daily challenges in mind, in body, in spirit. Warrior Games athletes are not defined by illness, injury or the invisible wounds of war. They’re defined by their courage, their determination, their grit, their resilience and their friends and family who cheer them on here and at home.”
The Air Force is committed to supporting the service’s wounded warriors, their families and caregivers throughout the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration process. Goldfein said every athlete’s story is unique and deeply personal, but there are common threads of strength and resilience between the athletes.
“These Warrior Games allow all of us, from both here and watching from home to recommit that no warrior takes the road to recovery alone,” said Goldfein. “Family, friends and caregivers -- we’re on your wing for life. It’s a full contact team sport. And within the profession of arms it’s family business.”
Goldfein also announced a new tradition by presenting an official Warrior Games flag to Air Force Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, this year’s Warrior Games commander.
Star Power at the Ceremony
Other senior military leaders were in attendance for the opening ceremony, including Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who addressed the athletes in attendance.
“To all the athletes, thank you for being an inspiration,” Selva said. “This week is all about sportsmanship and camaraderie. It’s about making friends. It’s about being the heroes that you are.”
Comedian Jon Stewart served as the master of ceremonies for the event, and pop singer Kelly Clarkson performed a free concert for the athletes and their families at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Stewart had jumped earlier with the Air Force’s Wings of Blue parachute team and joked about his trouble keeping his breakfast down.
Goldfein told him, “Thank you Jon Stewart for joining the Wings of Blue and jumping out of a perfectly good airplane today. I just hope we were able to replace the breakfast you lost on the way down.”
This is Stewart’s third year as host of the Warrior Games.
Athletes at the Warrior Games “will go to any lengths for their teammates, for the victory, and I hope you’re not here just to support them but to learn from them,” Stewart told the opening ceremony audience.
“Whenever I spend time with the athletes at the Warrior Games,” he added, “I hope that just a fraction of their tenacity, their honor, their grace, their resilience and their teamwork will inspire me to do better in my life every day.”
Clarkson said she was honored to return to the Warrior Games.
“It was such a blessing to do the first one. It’s such an honor. Thank you so much for your service,” she said. “Thank your families for the sacrifice that you all make.”
Lighting the Torch
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro Jr., a 2010 inaugural games athlete, began the torch passing to representatives of each branch of the service until retired Air Force Master Sgt. Shanon Hampton had the flame for the big cauldron on the stage. As Goldfein told him to light the cauldron, he reached up to light it, but strong winds prevented him from doing so.
Goldfein announced the official opening of the 2018 DoD Warrior Games but Stewart jumped in, getting an assist from stage support for a ladder. A stage hand lit the torch.
“Done -- we are open for business,” Stewart said.
Hampton said he was honored to carry the torch.
“It is difficult to put into words the honor I was given to carry the torch for the Air Force and the Warrior Games. To once again serve with the Air Force, with my teammates, for my country and for God will be a memory I will cherish the rest of my life,” Hampton said. “We all have faced trials, hardship and heartache to get where we are at, but some things are just worth hurting for. Go Air Force!”
History and Purpose of the Games
This year’s Warrior Games competitions began June 1 and will conclude June 9. About 300 wounded, ill and injured service members, including 39 Air Force athletes, representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, and U.S. Special Operations Command, along with allied armed forces from the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, are competing in shooting, archery, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, powerlifting, time-trial cycling and indoor rowing.
The Warrior Games was created in 2010 as an introduction to adaptive sports and reconditioning activities for service members and veterans.
The U.S. Olympic Committee led and organized the Warrior Games from 2010 to 2014, hosting them each year in Colorado Springs. In 2015, the DoD assumed responsibility for planning and organizing the Warrior Games, having a service branch host the games each year.
The Marines hosted in 2015 at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, and then handed it off to Army at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. The Navy hosted last year in Chicago, near its basic training center.
Adaptive sports and reconditioning are linked to a variety of benefits for wounded, ill and injured service members across all branches of the military. Benefits include less stress, reduced dependency on pain and depression medication, fewer secondary medical conditions, higher achievement in education and employment and increased independence, self-confidence and mobility.
Admission to Warrior Games competition events is free and open to the public.
(DoD News Service contributed to this story.)