Well, it is time for the Second Annual Warrior Games, live from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Just rolled into town this morning, and attended the first briefing, with the opening ceremonies to take place tonight. This year the torch will be borne by Medal of Honor recipient SSG Sal Giunta, who I hope to get to talk to after the ceremony.
For those who didn't follow last year, the basic gist, as laid out by the Army's Warrior Transition Command:
Wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers will compete in the inaugural Warrior Games, May 10-14, 2010, through a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Olympic Committee. These inaugural games are part of an effort to inspire recovery, capitalize on physical fitness, and promote opportunities for growth and achievement among those wounded, ill, or injured.
The Warrior Games will provide a unique challenge for those who wish to learn more about adaptive sports and compete at a national level. An estimated 200 athletes will travel to the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to compete as the guests of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s (USOC) Paralympic Military Program. From the Army there will be 100 servicemembers, 50 from the Marine Corps, 25 from the Air Force, and 25 from the Navy/ Coast Guard.
Points are awarded for each competition, weighted to how many competitors from that branch. Thus, the Air Force would get 4x as many points for a specific medal as the Army. The winning branch of service will receive the coveted "Chairman's Cup." Last year the Marine Corps won this going away, having come out to Colorado 2 weeks early to acclimate. This year the Army got here at least a week early, I haven't heard about the other services yet.
As for an individual award, nothing is more prestigious than the "Ultimate Champion Award." This morning when I said on my Facebook page that I had arrived, one young lady chimed in that she was flying out here today to watch her Fiancee compete in this event. I don't know how I missed it the first go around, but her betrothed is Scott Martin, the young Legionnaire that I tracked last year.
It was wonderful talking to Jeff [Scott's dad], and his pride in what Scott was accomplished was palpable. Scott was in the initial wave of Marines into Afghanistan, and then later deployed to Iraq. While in Iraq he was hit by an IED and had really bad PTSD and TBI. As Jeff told me, "when Scott got back he was tested as reading at a second or third grade level, but through hard work and treatment he is now attending college."
So, obviously I will be pulling for Scott. [Don't tell my Army brothers.]
This morning there was a quick briefing with the Army, and a chance to meet some of their athletes. The Army REALLY has their act together, and I think some of that can be laid at the feet of the new commander of the Warrior Transition Command BG Darryl Williams. As fortune would have it, I had actually met BG Williams before, last Christmastime actually, when he was still a Colonel. I was at a holiday reception at Adm Mullins house when I located a side room that had some unattended bratwurst that demanded eating. Col Williams and his CSM found me (and Blackfive) in there chowing the brats and joined us. Awesome guy, just an impressive man across the board.
But he introduced us today to three utterly remarkable individuals. Three Army Athletes, each impressive in their own way.
Captain Elizabeth Merwin is a breast cancer survivor, and a veteran of Afghanistan. In fact, it was in Kandahar when she first found the lump. She tried to ignore it, but her medical staff would have none of that. She was loaded into a bird, and went first to Landstuhl, and then on to Ft Campbell. The fears were confirmed, and she required a mastectomy. As she arrived at Campbell she noticed a sign for a cycling event, and resolved to take part if she could. A week after her surgery, she did just that.
CPT Merwin had spent time as an enlisted linguist in Russian. She served during the first Gulf War, but never deployed, and left the military. 13 years after leaving though, she decided to go back in, and so it was she found herself in Kandahar serving as a quartermaster in the 101st Aviation. As a cyclist, she cites to Lance Armstrong, and his strength as a fellow cancer survivor. She intends to stay in and hopes to make LTC eventually. For now, she'll be attending the Captains Career Course, and eventually join a Civil Affairs unit. Although representing the "ill" soldiers at the games, she is quick to point out that the competitors are not identified by injury, but all represent the US Army.
SFC Landon Rankor (also of the 101st) will be competing against Scott Martin for the title of "Ultimate Champion." And I would be hesitant to bet against him, he's a competitor and a survivor. 19 years a light infantryman, SFR Rankor was on the business end of a few concussions during his 4 tours. He talked about his TBI, comparing it to dropping a laptop: everything might look okay, but every once in a while when you are booting it up you might get some errors and malfunctions. "The trick," Rankor says "is getting used to the defects and issues, and working around it. Don't focus on what you can't do, focus on what you can."
Apparently what he can do is win, as evidenced by the 2 gold and 1 silver medals he got at last years Warrior Games. SFC Rankor can't be an infantryman anymore, but he is staying on Active Duty under a continuation program that allows him to help other servicemembers with rehabilitative and adaptive sports. "I'll stay in as long as they will let me."
SGT Robbie Gaupp was injured on Active Duty while patrolling our Southern Border. It was a job he was clearly proud to do, repeatedly citing what a wonderful country we live in. SGT Gaupp however really injured his shoulder, to a point that when he runs ("And I run REAL fast" he says) he has to do so with one arm swinging. Robbie focuses a lot on what a great country we have, and more so his obvious fraternal love of his fellow servicemembers. He goes out of his way to thank all past, present and future soldiers for fighting for the country he loves. "The choices they make are just unbelievable."
And his affection for the Army is no less sincere. "Once a soldier, always a soldier" he says. "You are held to a standard, regardless of what happens to you, but the Warrior Transition Units are great because they also make it personal to the soldiers." He concludes: "What separates the people here from others is focusing on abilities over disabilities. It's what separates them from all other human beings."
And those are just three of the heroes that will be here, joining over 200 other athletes. Tonight will be the opening ceremony, and I will be blogging all the games each day, so keep coming back here!