WEST POINT, NY, UNITED STATES
By U.S. Army Reserve Master Sgt. D. Keith Johnson
316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) PAO
WEST POINT, N.Y. (June 21, 2016) – In the ‘One Army’ concept, the reserve components play an important role in a successful U.S. Army. The 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games is no different. Four U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers earned seven gold medals, five silver medals and eight bronze medals for Team Army at the Warrior Games held at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
The DoD Warrior Games, held June 15-21, is an adaptive reconditioning sports competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and Veterans. Approximately 250 athletes representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom Armed Forces competed in archery, cycling, track, field, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, and wheelchair basketball.
Warrior Games is the pinnacle event of the competition component of the Warrior Care and Transition Program. Wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Veterans recovering at Warrior Transition Units across the country incorporate adaptive reconditioning into their personalized recovery plans, connecting physical activity with each component of rehabilitation: physical, emotional, spiritual, social, family and career. Adaptive reconditioning activities are linked to a variety of benefits including reduced stress and dependency on medication, increased mobility and higher achievement in education and employment.
U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Kawaiola Nahale is a financial management technician with the 311th Signal Command (Theater), based at Fort Shafter, Hawaii and has nine years of service as a reservist. She competed in swimming and cycling at the 2016 Warrior Games.
The Honolulu native learned to swim at an early age and was swimming competitively at age 6. In 2013, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent three surgeries and credits the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Shafter with helping her focus on getting better. At the WTU, she was introduced to adaptive reconditioning sports which further helped her healing, including swimming.
“The water is my healing place,” she said. “After all of my surgeries and restrictions, being in the water was my place of peace.”
She had never heard of the Warrior Games before she got into the WTU.
“One of the site coordinators came to me and said, ‘there is this thing called the Warrior Games and you’d be a perfect fit for it,’” said Nahale.
The Pacific Command Wounded Warrior Trials were conducted between six to seven months after her surgeries.
“I didn’t think I wasn’t going to be able to make it, but I made it,” she said. “I made the trials!” (Army Trials)
Nahale competed in her first Warrior Games in 2014, competing in the swimming event.
In 2015, some fellow athletes were able to convince her to get back on a bicycle for the first time in 16 years. “I had been in an accident at 19 and hadn’t been back on a bike,” explained Nahale. Her first race was with Team Army during the 2015 Warrior Games at Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Adaptive reconditioning is helping her work toward fulfilling her goal of one day being a drill sergeant in the Army Reserve. She also has long term goals concerning her military career. “I’d like to retire from the Army Reserve as a command sergeant major after 30 years of service,” said Nahale.
“I enjoy being able to represent Team Army because I am proud to serve my country,” she added. Nahale earned one gold medal and four silver medals in swimming.
U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Ashley Anderson is a military police officer in the 339th Military Police Company, based in Davenport, Iowa. She is currently assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Riley, Kansas, awaiting a medical retirement.
Anderson deployed to Guantanamo Bay in 2008 and again in 2014. She suffered a herniated disc while deployed and was sent to Fort Riley. She welcomed the adaptive reconditioning program.
During high school she excelled in multiple sports including basketball, track and field, volleyball and softball.
“I love sports so I was eager to learn,” said Anderson. “I played volleyball throughout my school years, so it was nice to see that they had sitting volleyball. I was able to transfer my skills to the ground, which is a lot harder than it looks.”
Anderson’s squad leader asked her to try out since he noticed during adaptive reconditioning that she was athletic. Her squad leader was able to get her into the Fort Bliss Army Time Trials in 2015.
“I only had a week to train, but I wanted to challenge myself to see what I could do,” she said.
She competed as a member of Team Army in 2015. She competed in the 2016 Invictus Games and won Silver Medals for shot put and discus for the US team. The Invictus Games took place this year in Orlando, and brought together wounded service members from countries across the globe. “I surprised myself. It was an amazing experience,” said Anderson.
Anderson looked forward to representing Team Army this year at the Warrior Games. “It’s nice to focus on sports and to meet people who are dealing with the same issues, and other issues that you can relate to,” she said. “We’ve all become a family. It’s been very inspirational.”
Anderson will be competed in swimming, field and sitting volleyball events. “I love the water and its therapeutic value to me,” she said. “I look forward to challenging myself to overcome all obstacles that help shape who I am.” Anderson won a silver medal in shot put; a bronze medal in discus; a bronze medal in sitting volleyball; and three bronze medals in swimming.
Her future goals include coaching and helping individuals overcome their physical challenges.
“No matter what your injury or illness is, keep going, keep stepping forward, keep learning and anything you put your mind to, you can overcome,” said Anderson.
U.S. Army Reserve Veteran Staff Sgt. Megan Grudzinski, from Strongsville, Ohio, was a chemical specialist who deployed to Afghanistan with a different reserve unit. She was in a situation common to reservists returning from a deployment.
“When I returned from Afghanistan, I felt so isolated,” she said. “None of my friends were Veterans and my reserve unit was in Illinois.”
At first everything was “like a honeymoon,” But things didn’t return to normal.
“A few months into my return home, I started having nightmares and not sleeping,” said Grudzinski. “I knew something wasn’t right.”
Grudzinski was suffering from PTSD, and other health issues from her deployment. She came down with amoebic dysentery while deployed and developed asthma from working around burn pits. When she returned home, she spent a week in the hospital.
“I didn’t go to a Warrior Transition Unit, but I probably should have,” she said. “I received my healthcare through the VA.”
She started running, working out and getting more into fitness for her PTSD. Physical activity often helps Veterans deal with PTSD. “It makes you feel better,” she added.
Grudzinski was surfing the web one day and ran across the Warrior Games website, and saw information on the upcoming 2016 Army Trials.
“I was online and saw the Army Trials were coming up,” she said. “I thought I’d train and be ready for next year, but they had a slot as an alternate.”
She had a few weeks to get ready for Army Trials. Running has always been her sport, and she competed in swimming and cycling. About a month before the Warrior Games someone dropped out and she became a competitor. Grudzinski won three gold medals in track and two bronze medals in swimming.
Cycling was a new experience for her. “I never rode a bike before,” said Grudzinski. “At Army Trials, I was brand new on a bike. When I got home, I bought a bike and started training.”
Training for the 2016 Warrior Games has helped with her PTSD.
“It’s been really positive, because my husband is deployed overseas right now,” said Grudzinski. “This gave me something to focus on. When he deployed, it starts bringing out memories. So having this to focus on has been really beneficial.”
Like many of the athletes, Grudzinski had big praise for the Warrior Games and the adaptive sports program.
“It’s really great. It’s something really positive,” she said.” If you feel like you’re in a bad spot, you see these athletes, and say, ‘I can do that.’ It doesn’t matter your age or disability. Don’t let your illness or injury define you.”
U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Zedrick Pitts is a horizontal construction engineer in Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 926th Engineer Brigade based in Montgomery, Alabama. He has been serving in the U.S. Army Reserve for nine years.
Pitts was diagnosed at the mobilization station in 2013 with Grave’s disease, an auto-immune disorder that leads to hyperthyroidism. Pitts’ participation in the adaptive reconditioning program helps preserve a measure of stability. He was first introduced to adaptive reconditioning at the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Bliss, Texas.
“Through adaptive sports, I was able to stabilize my disease a lot faster than normal, and my pain management skills have improved,” said Pitts.
While recovering at the WTB, he was able to gradually improve his strength and endurance using adaptive cycling.
This is the second Warrior Games Pitts has competed in. At the 2015 Warrior Games, Pitts was able to show how much his cycling and track skills had progressed. The competition also allowed him to gauge his overall physical and mental well-being.
At the 2016 Warrior Games, Pitts won three gold medals in Track and a bronze medal in cycling. He also won a bronze at the 2016 Invictus games in cycling.
Pitts plans on graduating college in a year and is seeking a commission in the Army Reserve.
He believes it is important to pay it forward by serving as a role model for other wounded, ill and injured service members.
“The adaptive reconditioning and sports program enables Army Reserve Soldiers, even if they get hurt, they can still serve, and they can still do their job,” said Pitts.” They just may have to do it a little differently. The adaptive sports program allows another chance to flourish, to wear the uniform and still be combat effective.”
To borrow from the Army Reserve mission statement, Army Reserve forces are always available for the needs of the Army and the Joint Force. The participation of U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers and Veterans in the DoD Warrior Games exemplifies that support from the reserve component. Not just in combat, but also in competition.
||WEST POINT, NY, US
This work, U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers compete in Warrior Games, by MSG D. Keith Johnson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.