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Warrior Games Seek to Inspire Disabled Warriors

Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden - American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., April 13, 2010 - The goal of the inaugural Warrior Games, scheduled for May 11-14, is to build confidence and provide rehabilitation for disabled servicemembers and veterans, the commander of U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command said yesterday.

"We want to inspire [disabled] soldiers to get out there and prove that there are a lot of things that they really can do," Army Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek said in an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel. "It sort of reinforces the notion that all the services have: [The Warrior Games] is about your abilities, not your disabilities. Yes, your life may be changed, but it's not over."

The games in Colorado Springs, Colo., will feature some 200 of the most athletic wounded active-duty members and military veterans in Paralympic-style competition. 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.

The opening ceremony is expected to bring more than 1,000 people, including the athletes, coaches and spectators. Rolling Thunder, a Vietnam War veterans advocacy group known for its patriotic motorcycle rides across the country, will escort an American flag from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City to Colorado Springs. Roger Staubach and Rocky Bleier -- former National Football League greats and military veterans --also are expected to be part of the ceremony, along with a parachute team.

Cheek, who helped to come up with the idea for the games, praised his partners in the U.S. Olympic Committee's Paralympic division, calling their support "spectacular" in helping to facilitate and organize the games. Along with hosting the games at their training site, the committee has allotted Paralympic coaches to hone the competitors' skills in the days leading up to the competition. Competitors also will be staying in lodging and using the dining facilities at the Olympic training site.

"The enthusiasm from [the Olympic Committee], their desire to support this, has been very gratifying," the general said. "The amount of cooperation between the services has been really spectacular as well. We've been working on [the Warrior Games] for the past eight months pretty hard, with recurring meetings and milestones and things to meet. It's been quite a team effort."

All of the athletes have been selected and identified for the games. 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, the Air Force will send 25, and the Coast Guard and Navy will combine to send 25 more.

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 Defense Department is paying for the coaches and also is picking up the tab for competitors' room and board and travel expenses.

The department also will fund one person -- whether it's a medical professional, a friend or a family member -- to accompany athletes with special needs or in-home care. Military and Olympic physicians also will be on hand at the games.

For the past several weeks, Cheek has been visiting with Army competitors, their families and warrior transition units across the services to get an understanding of how they feel about the games. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from troops looking to compete, but overall, the response has been somewhat varied, he acknowledged.

Some troops want to participate in the games immediately, Cheek explained, while others are a little wary and just not mentally or physically ready for this level of competition. Also, some wounded warriors are concerned about how the games would interfere with their rehabilitation regimens and their progress.

"The response from [wounded warriors] is somewhat mixed, but those for whom the timing is right and the desire is there, the feedback is very, very positive," Cheek said. "Just the fact that we've had over twice as many applicants as we have for the number of slots is a good indication of the level of desire the soldiers have to get into this."

Cheek also has learned from his visits with troops that setting goals can make a tremendous impact on recovery. Goal-oriented troops seem to have a much faster recovery rate, another positive aspect the games may have, he said. This is the type of foundation and mindset Cheek hopes the Warrior Games and adaptive sports will help to instill in all disabled servicemembers and veterans, he said.

"Every soldier is unique, but it is interesting to note that those with their own personal will and desire can really accelerate their healing process and get back into life," he said. "The fact that we're pushing them in a physical venture to push themselves hard and to go out and compete ... is a big part of that."

Although there are some mental and emotional advantages to the games, Cheek said, he sees the games for what they are -- an athletic competition. He looks forward to the troops challenging each other, "talking trash" and being really motivated to win, he said. "I really see the Warrior Games as a great and challenging athletic event, and may the best athletes win," the general said. "Will there be some therapeutic benefits? I think there will be. [But] I'm looking forward to a little bit of the trash talking that'll be going on among those soldiers and letting them try to get back into a new normal for them -- let them get into an environment where they can knock heads and mess with each other and have some fun." But mostly, Cheek said, he is looking forward to sitting down and chat with the competitors after the games to get their feedback and find out what could have been done better. "Let the games begin," he said. "I'm ready to get out there and see what happens. I really want our soldiers to realize that it's all about your abilities, not your disabilities."

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