By Shannon Collins
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va., June 26, 2015 – After Army Special Forces veteran Andy McCaffrey rode his upright bike in the men’s classified race in the 2015 DoD Warrior Games here, he dismounted, put on his Army-patterned tartan and congratulated his fellow competitors.
That spirit continued June 23 when he competed in the shot put and discus field events.
“Warrior Games shows you what the human spirit is really about,” McCaffrey said. “It shows how resourceful a human being really is. It’s not just about competing and a medal count and winning.”
Sporting a Mohawk haircut and a willingness to make friends with his competitors, McCaffrey isn’t known for sweeping the medals, but rather for his commitment to training, to the team and to honesty.
“He makes an impact,” said his wife, Karen. “He’s ornery, but he’s a good, honest person. He’s loud, has no filters, and as he will tell you, he’s an acquired taste, which I won’t deny.
“He’s given his everything and his all, certainly, to the Army and to the nation, and he’s still continuing to give a 110 percent here,” she continued. “He trains really hard. He will do anything he is asked. His coaches and his teammates like that he’s out there, and he always gives his all.”
McCaffrey competed in the men’s upright cycling June 24, and he’ll also compete in the men’s classified 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter run and the men’s classified standing shot put and discus later. Last year, he earned a silver medal in the men’s classified 400-meter run at the Warrior Games. In 2012, he competed at the Warrior Games for the Special Forces Command team, but he didn’t earn a medal.
McCaffrey’s father served in the Army, and his uncle was a Green Beret in Vietnam. He said he joined the military because he didn’t want to work behind a desk. He joined the Marines as a radio operator and wireman in 1990 and switched to the Army in 1994, where he became a combat engineer. In 1999, he went to Special Forces and never looked back.
In 2002, during a deployment to Afghanistan, he was disposing of a Chinese hand grenade with indigenous equipment when it prematurely detonated in his hand.
“It would be cooler if I had gotten into a lightsaber fight with Osama bin Laden,” he joked. “The team doc told me part of my thumb and the back of my palm was still there, and the original goal was to try to re-attach it at the casualty evac [facility]. But they realized it was too far gone and did me a solid and cut me up as high as possible. They gave me the longest arm possible.”
He fought to stay on active duty and he even returned to Afghanistan for three more combat tours.
Adapting to a Prosthetic
McCaffrey said the doctors were amazed that he took to his prosthetic so quickly, but then he told them his father was an amputee. His father had lost his leg in the late 1960s when he was hit by a drunk driver. McCaffrey was born in 1972, so he never knew his father with two legs.
“When you grow up in an amputee household, it’s the norm,” he said. “You never really pay attention to it. I got hurt, and I was out of the hospital within 90 days with the prosthetics, the things I needed to survive, and I went back to work.”
McCaffrey said he learned how to give somebody an IV with the prosthetic on when he was still in the Army.
“I actually threaded the needle in the skin with the prosthetic, because I needed my left hand for the dexterity to tie the person down,” he said. “I know how to give a tracheotomy with the prosthetic on. I learned how to jump out of an airplane again with it on. I learned how to shoot again. When I got hurt, after I started going back, I was going back out on combat patrols again.”
Karen started dating him five years ago, and they got married two years ago, so she never has known him without the prosthetic.
“He’s just missing a hand -- whatever,” she said. “It doesn’t matter to me. When I first met him, it was like, ‘Who is this loud, strange man?’ He’s cute and interesting. He’s awesome. He’s a pain in the butt, but I love him.”
McCaffrey said that when he was first injured, programs such as the Warrior Games, Invictus and the Valor Games didn’t exist. In 2002, a he was part of a team of amputees from all of the service branches who ran the Army Ten-Miler together. Since then, he said, he has participated in many races. He said he enjoys participating in the events so he can socialize with veterans and with the public.
“Doing charity and soldier rides give me the opportunity to be out meeting the people I protected,” he said.
Karen said adaptive sports have had a big impact on McCaffrey.
“He’s certainly somebody who’s used it for its intended purpose: to keep wounded veterans in a good mindset in a community and feeling like they’re not alone and feeling fit and focused. He’s definitely been good at that,” she said.
Events such as the Warrior Games are important for amputees, McCaffrey said.
“It’s good for all of us to be able to compete with one another in the spirit of camaraderie,” he added. “The spirit of sportsmanship and just the ability to compete with each other will always boost a young person’s confidence to get more and more comfortable to be out in public instead of just being the leper sitting in his house, just sitting and wallowing in self-pity. It’s counterproductive.”
He said adaptive sports have helped him channel some of his anger and frustration into a positive format.
“I’d rather show up to Warrior Games for all these things and lose every year then not do this at all,” said McCaffrey, who is now becoming a certified yoga instructor.
Karen said her husband enjoys having her come to his events.
“I know it means a lot to Andy that I’m here,” she said, joking that she was just shrieking, ‘Whoo hoo!’ when he passed by. “As long as he knows that I’m here cheering and that I’ll be here at the end of the race, he’s pleased. And at the end of the day, they all are.
“And it’s not just wounded warriors,” she added. “Everybody does better when you know you have family and friends backing you up in whatever tasks you do. They really do work very hard for this.”