Warrior Games opening picture perfect

 
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Warrior Games opening picture perfect

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect in Colorado Springs, Colo., for the opening ceremonies of the Warrior Games.  On a warm and breezy Monday afternoon, athletes and VIPs from all over the country congregated at the Olympic Training Center to kick off the 3rd Annual Warrior Games, sponsored by Deloitte. 

More than 200 wounded athletes from all branches of the military are participating in this year's games. As in previous years, athletes are divided up into teams by their respective branch of the military: Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations. This year, the Warrior Games have become an international event; an 18 member contingent from the British Armed Forces is participating.  Teams acquire points for winning events.  The overall point champion (determined on a weighted scale representative of the population of the team) wins the Chairman's Cup. 

The Marine Corps won the award the previous two years the games were held, so all teams seem to be gunning for them.  It became abundantly clear by the Marines’ enthusiasm in the opening ceremony that they intend on giving the other teams a run for their money.

Photo by Sean Crosier

As the members of the respective teams made their way into the ceremony, I felt in many ways as if I was looking in a mirror.  My recovery was identical to some of the wounded veterans competing, right down to the very same physical and occupational therapists at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  Most outsiders see just the façade of what they have become: wounded veterans who have overcome their injuries to become athletes.  What they do not see or realize is the long road of struggles it took to get there.  The frustration, the sorrow and the infinite amount of steps it took just to get them to where they are today are unknown to those who have not experienced or witnessed it first-hand.   The road to recovery is long and painful. But by looking at the smiling faces entering the opening ceremony, one would not know it.

Photo by Sean Crosier

Retired Army veteran Melissa Stockwell and Royal Marine Captain Simon Maxwell from Croydon, England, lit the cauldron to officially kick off the Warrior Games.  I bumped into  Stockwell a couple times when I was a patient at Walter Reed back in 2007.  She is pretty well known in the wounded warrior community, not only for being one of the first women severely wounded in combat in Iraq (female amputees are not real common), but for the can-do attitude she applies to everything in life, including serving on the board of directors for the Wounded Warrior Program. (link)

 

According to a UK government news release, Capt. Maxwell is no slouch himself:

“Captain Maxwell, who grew up in Croydon, England, joined the Royal Marines in 2009 after studying history for three years at Nottingham University. He passed out of training as a Royal Marines Commando Officer 16 months later. He was deployed to Helmand Province in Afghanistan in April 2011 where he served as a Troop Commander with Lima Company. He was wounded in August of 2011 while on patrol; he stepped on an IED which led to the loss of his left leg below the knee. “

A mere nine months after he lost his left leg to an IED, he marched up the towering steps with Stockwell and lit the torch to kick off the Warrior Games.

Speakers at the opening ceremony included First Lady Michelle Obama, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other distinguished guests.  The First Lady gave a speech with her usual grace and support for the military, stating “I want you to know that America does have your back.”  Gen. Dempsey was rather lighthearted and alluded to the fact he would prefer the Army to win the Chairman’s Cup over the Marine Corps.  He also said he will judge the success of the games based on how many military personnel sign up for next year, a signal of Warrior Games to come.

Photo by Sean Crosier

This year’s event schedule and placement of the games is apparently different than other years.  In the previous games, most events were held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, with only an event or two held at the Air Force Academy.  This year, with the Summer Olympics less than 100 days away, officials were forced to move the majority of the events to the Air Force Academy; only the shooting event and the opening ceremony were or will be held at the Olympic Training Center. 

Due to the last-minute addition of the First Lady to the opening ceremony, security was extremely tight.  All entrances were locked down, buildings were literally chained shut, and everyone was sent through a metal detector and bag search.  So unfortunately I was not able to get access to any of the athletes for interviews as in previous years, nor was the media allowed to really run around freely and take photos.  My apologies to the readers of the Burn Pit. I will do more in-depth coverage this week as the games go on so I can get you closer to the action.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.