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NEWS | Aug. 24, 2022

Commentary: The spirit of Warrior Games

By Robert Whetstone Army

Heritage and history provide lessons that help the U.S. military be the strongest in the world today. Looking back provides the bridge to further deliver the best care for the nation’s number one commodity: it’s people, sons and daughters…warriors.

The 2022 Department of Defense Warrior Games remains a showcase of resiliency. This year’s games began on August 19, 2022, at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, and ends with a closing ceremony on August 29. It is unlike any other sporting event in our country. Its inception came in 2010, serving as a means to provide recovery and rehabilitation to service members, exposing them to adaptive sports.

The participants come from the fabric of a country built on battlefields like Gettysburg, Argonne, Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir, Hamburger Hill, Fallujah, and Kandahar. It was great grandparents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, mothers and fathers that carved out a path for today’s warriors.

Most Americans have been touched by war at some point in their blood line. My father, a retired command sergeant major, went to Vietnam twice. He had some duties he had no business surviving and coming home from. When he did, our family saw the scars, physical and emotional. The emotional scars still haunt him. It is extremely rare he will share what he experienced with me or anyone else for that matter. Having stayed in the “family business” for nearly 28 years, I understand now. And I love him even more for the sacrifices he and others like him made and continue to make.

Flash forward to this year’s DoD Warrior Games. The backdrop is the world’s playground, Disney. A happy place full of dreams that come true. Teams from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Special Operations Command, Canada, and Ukraine, sent these resilient examples to compete, thrive, and make lasting friendships.

They share a common bond. Some have lost limbs in combat, training exercises, or by other means. Others are battling cancer, have experienced the loss of a comrade, or seen some terrible scenes on the battlefield, just like my father and I, and bear unseen wounds, just as damaging. The nightly fireworks at Disney are nice, but to some, it can be a trigger.

The thing about Warrior Games and similar events is, it is a beginning. A place where athletes laugh at the Florida heat, pick each other up when they fall, and have one another’s back (regardless of the branch they serve); just like they trained, and just like they fought.

Yes, I am partial to Team Army. That’s where I spent my career, and that is where my heart lies. The first few days of Warrior Games I’ve seen these Soldier-athletes and support staff come together like a well-oiled platoon. It is beautiful to see.

One of our athletes had a terrible crash in a cycling race. With road rash on her body, she got back up on her broken bike, entered her next race, and the team cheered her on. She didn’t win a medal, but she won the race. That is the spirit of Warrior Games.

Soldiers, active duty and veterans, are participating in archery, shooting, track, powerlifting, indoor rowing, cycling, swimming, wheelchair rugby, sitting volleyball, field, and wheelchair basketball. Many of the team members never tried some of these sports before, until they got to their Soldier Recovery Units.

Medals have been won by Team Army in cycling, shooting, powerlifting, rowing, and they just missed out on the bronze in wheelchair rugby against a stubbornly clever Team SOCOM. Never mind the medals. Every participant won before they even stepped on a plane or drove to get here.

There is no “agony of defeat” at Warrior Games. It is all about the thrill of victory. When you see Team Army participants recover and overcome, you know each one of them have found the spirit of the Warrior Games.

There are smiles in the hallways, with some Team Army athletes learning to speak a little Ukrainian to communicate common struggles and triumphs and share that similar bond even language cannot break.

If you’ve never been to the DoD Warrior Games, you should experience it. You will be proud, and you may even get chills watching your service members…thriving. I’m getting chills just thinking about tomorrow’s events.

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