News: Warrior Games important to Comprehensive Training Plan for wounded, ill and injured service members
Story by Jennifer Spradlin
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Athletes from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations Command are fitting in their final training practices for the 2012 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 30 – May 5, each with the opportunity to represent their own unique branch and serve as a role model to world athletes.
The Warrior Games are an Olympic-style sporting event which feature wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans in shooting, swimming, archery, sitting volleyball, cycling, track and field, and wheelchair basketball. The services compete against each other to win medals that are worth points. The service with the most points at the end of the competition earns The Chairman’s Cup title. Additionally, some athletes compete in a variety of events to earn the title of Ultimate Champion.
In 2009, Army Brig. Gen. Gary H. Cheek, a former Commander, U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command, (WTC), identified the need for an avenue where Soldiers could focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities. The solution: a friendly competitive sporting event with the other military services. Since 2010, the U.S. Olympic Committee has hosted the Warrior Games, supported by the Department of Defense. Other supporters of the 2012 games include the U.S. Department t of Veterans Affairs, USO, Fisher House Foundation, The Daniels Fund, AT&T, BP, DeVry, Anheuser Busch and Chobani.
“The Warrior Games give the athletes opportunities to show their abilities and what they can do. Sometimes when people get injured or have a change in their lifestyle, they focus on what they can’t do, but we’re in the business of thinking positive,” said Lt. Col. Keith L. Williams, Adaptive Sports and Reconditioning Branch Chief. “We want them thinking, ‘now I can do this or do that and now I want to do it.’”
Williams explained that for some soldiers and veterans the athletic lifestyle is new. Despite being in the military, they didn’t participate in sports or seek additional fitness prospects outside of the required physical training with their units. Adaptive sports are a second chance for them to become involved in something. Others were sports superstars prior to their injury or life-altering event and the Warrior Games and similar events allow them to still represent their talent and drive.
“This is a gateway for soldiers who could possibly compete for the U.S. Paralympic Team. A way to give a soldier an azimuth in the recovery process, when they are asking themselves, ‘What am I going to do?’” said Master Sgt. Jarret J. Jongema, non-commissioned officer-in-charge of Adaptive Sports and Reconditioning. “While they are in recovery, they might have been working on their education process and then picked up competitive shooting with a pellet rifle or wheelchair basketball or any sports we have, it doesn’t even have to be a sport we have here at the Warrior Games. It’s an azimuth and of course, they have to figure out the pace count, but they do it and it’s amazing to see.”
Jongema is in a position to relate with the soldiers and veteran athletes he helped select for the team. In 2004, while working as an imbedded senior trainer with the Iraqi National Guard in Baghdad, a suicide car bomber struck his vehicle. Jongema, who was manning the turret, was thrown from the vehicle and impaled through the chest on a nearby fence pole. Trapped in barbed wire, and bleeding from additional shrapnel wounds, he was also shot in his leg and upper extremities.
Jongema is keenly aware of the physical, emotional, and behavioral toll that can be caused by a traumatic event or serious illness. He is well positioned in his current role with the WTC and as a senior enlisted speaker with the Army Wounded Warriors Program Speakers Bureau.
It was under his direction the Army changed the selection process for the Warrior Games. Unlike in the past, athletes are required to do more than fill out an application; they participated in mini-sports camps, which ran from October 2011 until this April. The goal was to create the overall best team dynamic to ensure the best opportunity to win and to find the right individuals to represent the Army.
Jongema knew from his time at the Army Human Resources Command, choosing the right person for a position went beyond an application or looking at someone’s service record. It required personal interaction to understand their strengths and weakness. He also knew that if an athlete was good at wheelchair basketball, a team sport, they might also be good at sitting volleyball. He looked for ways to cross-section the abilities of the athletes and to introduce them to something they might never have considered.
“Do you know why I lose no sleep? The commander tasked me with putting together the best team I could, based on the population we received applications from. I know I assembled the best,” said Jongema. “ ... I want to see that everything that we put these Soldiers through, everything they put themselves through and the competitive selection process -- I want to see that show up out there. Whether they win or lose.”
The Warrior Games, and other competitive sports, are an important aspect in the recovery of the Soldiers and veterans and a rare chance for their Families to see them perform in an athletic arena but rehabilitating the physical, is just one of the areas of concern for the WTC.
Each soldier going through a Warrior Transition Unit is helps develop a personalized Comprehensive Training Plan. There are six domains of focus: career, physical, emotional, social, Family and spiritual. It is a more holistic approach to recovery, which helps the Soldiers either transition back into the military or into the civilian sector.
“You don’t necessarily have to recondition all of the domains,” said Williams. “You might have a soldier who is very healthy physically but has an emotional or social anxiety. And so we do activities to specifically address those areas. It can be something as varied as fly-fishing, canoeing or hiking.”
Another reconditioning scenario Williams suggested was to have soldiers go to a restaurant to eat lunch. If a service member has lost a limb or is badly burned, how do they handle the stares or questions about their injury, can they figure out how to move with a tray in their hand or get out of a low-seated booth?
Williams also explained the importance of reconditioning for Family members. Often times family members are reluctant to voice their concerns or feelings out of fear they might hurt their loved one or be seen as unpatriotic. Reconditioning helps Families stay together and guides them in a positive direction toward the next phase of their lives.
With the focus on the Warrior Games, Williams and Jongema hope to bring attention to a very select group of the population who might go unappreciated or misunderstood.
“In one way, if you look at the Warrior Games, it allows everybody to look at just a small population. Think of it like a flip-switch that allows a satellite to come in and zoom in on just a small field. In the Army’s case, it’s looking at just 50, and that’s 50 veterans and soldiers,” said Jongema. “That 50 is the embodiment of the 10,000 soldiers we have who are injured, ill or wounded in our Warrior Transition Units and the other 10,000 plus that are in our Army Wounded Warrior Program – veterans. There – you’ve just zoomed in on this super competitive event. It’s amazing to see and be a part of.”
This work, Warrior Games important to Comprehensive Training Plan for wounded, ill and injured service members, by SSG Jennifer Spradlin, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.