JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Between fences, entry points and armed guards, it’s easy to feel like the military is isolated on bases. However, Soldiers are as much a part of their community as anyone else, and as such, they volunteer regularly.
Soldiers from 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, supported the Washington State Special Olympics held on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, May 30 through June 1.
According to the organization’s website, the mission of Special Olympics Washington is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in sharing gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
Soldiers from 5-20 Infantry Battalion helped plan the event and set up venues across JBLM. They also provided assistance throughout the Special Olympics by interacting with and cheering on the athletes as they competed.
"The planning started back in February with Special Olympics of Washington," said 1st Lt. Joe Rivera, of Puerto Rico, 3-2 SBCT liaison for the Special Olympics. "We started out by going to Mercer Island every other Tuesday … to meet up with our counterparts, and that's where the planning came together. That went on for two months. That's where everything started coming together."
The weekend of the event, 5-20th Infantry "Sykes' Regulars" Battalion Soldiers were set up throughout the Cowan Stadium Olympic Town and Main Stadium, as well as the Youth Activity Center and North Fort Olympic Town. They assisted with the operation of the Special Olympics, as well as running numerous events including several Stryker vehicle displays for the athletes and visitors.
Spc. Mychael Garcia with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5-20 Infantry Battalion, was one of the 150 Soldiers who supported the event.
“Being able to volunteer and actually interact with them one-on-one, it gives me a different perspective of how everything works with them and gives me a better connection with the athletes," said Garcia, a Hanford, California, native. "It also gives me a chance to explain what I do and make their day a lot better, and let them know that we appreciate them as much as they appreciate us."
Otis Sistrunk, the manager of Cowan Stadium, where many of the Special Olympics events occurred, was grateful for the support.
“The manpower out here is the most important thing," Sistrunk said. "When you take a unit here and have them here for a full week, those first two days they get frustrated; but as they get closer to the games they all get a different attitude and it's really good. That's the most important thing; the more people that get involved, the better the games."
For the Soldiers, the event was a chance to give back to their community.
“Our Soldiers have done a really good job being motivated to come out here and help,” said 1st Lt. Cole Edgley, a chemical officer with 5-20 Infantry Battalion who served as an event coordinator. "They're excited they get to help out with Special Olympics, because it's a pretty special event.”
Despite their busy schedule conducting a brigade command post exercise, completing mandatory taskings, and supporting an upcoming mission at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, the Sykes Regulars’ Soldiers stood up, took charge and helped make this year's Washington State Special Olympics one that the athletes won't soon forget.