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Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May 14, 2010 Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. made a surprise visit to the inaugural Warrior Games here yesterday, capping a pivotal night in medal game play.
Unfortunately for the Army’s top military officer, he had to hang gold medals around Marine Corps teams’ necks, as they topped the Army teams in both the sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball competitions.
Following some adrenaline-filled action and before a packed auditorium, the Army landed silver in both categories, but when asked if he minded awarding the top prize to the Marines, Casey replied, “Not at all, not at all.”
Casey, who has spearheaded wounded warrior care reform in the Army, received a rock-star’s welcome, with troops from all services lining up for photos. He even autographed a few Warrior Games posters, and he presented the medals after the final basketball game.
Casey bypassed the designated VIP section and walked onto the gym floor just after the Army-Marine volleyball matchup, shaking hands and patting shoulders.
“How are you feeling?” he asked one soldier.
“I’m feeling good, sir. I’m feeling real good,” was the response.
Casey asked some servicemembers which competitions they were entering.
“I’ll see you at the finish line,” said one soldier in a reference to the track and field competitions scheduled today.
The general stopped frequently to allow troops and spouses to have their photo taken with him.
“Sir, I’d like to have a picture with you,” one soldier asked.
“I’d be honored,” Casey replied.
“That’ll be on Facebook tomorrow,” the Army chief joked afterward.
After the medals presentation for the volleyball competition, Casey took in the basketball finals. After the game, he said he saw pride in each servicemember’s face on both teams.
“Why these [games] are so important is they’re bringing these young men and women [together], and they’re allowing them to compete and allowing them to get those competitive juices going again,” Casey said.
Casey said that he thinks these inaugural Warrior Games will spawn future regional competitions to better prepare the athletes for competition in the games.
“I think it’s going to be great,” he said. “I think it’s going to have a huge trickle-down effect all across our warrior transition units.”
Because Casey has traveled around visiting troops in military hospitals, he recognized many of the athletes. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jacque Keeslar said he first met Casey while in physical rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
“It was a real honor to receive the medal from the chief of staff of the Army,” he said. “It was an awesome experience.”
Keeslar said Casey told him, “Good job, old man.”
At 40, Keeslar is the oldest member of his team. He was competing on the court against troops nearly half his age.
Keeslar said he believes the Army leadership is doing everything it can for wounded warriors. “Sometimes it may seem like it falls short,” he said, “but they’re doing everything that they can. When you’re in a situation like this, you can’t [ever] get what you need fast enough. Our leadership is working the best they can for us.”
Keeslar will retire with 20 years of service this year. He has continued to serve in the Army as a double-leg amputee for the past five years as a platoon sergeant for the Army’s warrior transition command at the Navy medical center in San Diego.
The Warrior Games wrap up here today with track and field competitions and the swimming finals. The event will end with an awards presentation, where the ultimate champion and the Chairman’s Cup awards will be presented.