Military News

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Invictus Competitor Points to Importance of Family



By Shannon Collins DoD News, Defense Media Activity

TORONTO, Sept. 30, 2017 — As medically retired Army Capt. Will Reynolds added bronze medals in the men’s 1,500-meter track and field and rugby competitions in his disability category to his extensive medal collection from the Department of Defense Warrior Games and events like the 2017 Invictus Games here, he said he couldn’t have done it without his family.

“Our families are with us at our lowest points when we were wounded, ill and injured and then this is a really high point, so Invictus is a way for family members to see competitors like myself healthy again and excelling. It’s a pinnacle for our recovery and kind of a reward for the families sticking it out through the hard days, those sleepless nights in the hospital and for all those hard times,” Reynolds said. “This is a good celebration for them, too, going to the opening and closing ceremonies, attending the concerts -- it’s just unbelievable.”

The Invictus Games, established by Prince Harry in 2014, brings together wounded and injured veterans from 17 nations for 12 adaptive sporting events, including track and field, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, swimming, sitting volleyball, and new to the 2017 games, golf.

‘We Feel Honored’

Reynolds’ wife, Cassandra, said she’s proud of her husband. “We feel honored to be a part of these games,” she said. “It’s great to be able to participate with our whole family. Having families and caregivers here is critical because these guys are tough physically but the mental and emotional support your family is able to provide for you and just the constant, to have that network and constant, that’s really helpful.”

Will’s son, Malachi, 8, enjoys watching his dad compete. “My daddy’s awesome because he rides bikes and runs with me and plays with me,” Malachi said. “He’s the coolest. I love that he’s in the Invictus Games.”

Malachi and one of his sisters, Gabrielle, 6, both play rugby and enjoy watching their father compete in wheelchair rugby.

“I like watching him play rugby the most,” Gabrielle said.

Recovery

Reynolds served in the Army for six years as an infantry officer and rifle platoon leader. In 2004, while performing a dismounted patrol during a reconnaissance mission in southwest Baghdad in Iraq, he was injured when a remotely detonated improvised explosive devise went off.

He underwent 26 surgeries from November 2004 to December 2006 as the doctors tried to save his left leg. Eventually, his leg had to be amputated at the knee.

“When his mother first saw him, it was hard to internalize where he would be years later,” Cassandra said. “At that point, it seemed like he was going to be bed ridden for an indefinite amount of time, and he needed help with everything: eating, going to the bathroom, everything. The doctors were pretty uncertain in terms of what his ability would be to walk normally, let alone run. To see where he’s come, where he’s started from and where he’s come to now, it’s just been incredible. With the right kind of support and therapy, he was able to do all the things he wanted to do essentially.”

Reynolds’ wife said Malachi was interested in how his father’s prosthetics worked.

“He likes to help daddy put it on, so he had to be part of the process,” Cassandra said. “He would go get the leg for him or charge it.”

Reynolds said having his family interested in his therapy and recovery process and wanting to get back to his children, Malachi, Gabrielle, Genevieve and Evangeline, were the motivating factors to accelerate his recovery.

Sharon Greenhill is the mother of one of Reynolds’ best friends, former Army Capt. Dustin Greenhill, who served two tours in Iraq and is now an orthopedic surgeon. They both went to the U.S. Military Academy together and were on the gymnastics team. When Will went through the limb salvage decision process, he reached out to his friend. Sharon has been watching Will compete through the years.

“It’s always wonderful to watch Will compete and be successful,” she said. “It was a long road from the time he was injured until the time he decided it was time to let go of the leg. I remember my son telling him that his quality of life will actually be better and discussing that. It’s been a hard road for Will, going through the pain of the injury and the rehabilitation. I remember when Will was first able to go with my son to learn how to ski on the mono ski.”

She said Reynolds has been training since the minute he was able to get back on his feet. “He’s not only a world-class athlete; he’s a world-class person,” she said. “He’s an amazing human being. He’s achieved so much, academically and emotionally. He’s just a pleasure to watch develop. He was determined to not let it stop him, and it hasn’t.”

Reynolds has competed in national and international events and hopes to make the Paralympics cycling team in 2020.

Toronto

Reynolds’ mother, Evelyn, said she is excited to watch her son compete in Toronto. “It’s like my backyard because even as Will was growing up, we were in Toronto all the time,” she said. “We have very close friends who grew up with us who live here. We’ve participated in everything from engagements to weddings, so we’re very close. We love Toronto.”

Evelyn, who lives in Rochester, New York, said the Canadian community has been very hospitable. “You can’t expect better with accommodations,” she said.

“The Canadians have been very hospitable,” Cassandra said. “We’re their neighbors, and they’re our brothers in arms. We’ve had nothing but great support and help from everyone here at the games.”

Reynolds said he has enjoyed how the hotel has blocked off a couple of its floors for the athlete village for all of the competitors from all of the countries.

“The hotel has just been amazing; it’s one of the best athlete centers we’ve had,” he said. “It’s pretty cool; you go to the convenience story and you’re in a U.S. kit and people know what you’re here for. There’re banners in the city. It’s always great when you come to these big areas and there’s a lot of stuff going on but people still realize that this is an important event, too. It was like that in London, too. It’s pretty awesome to be in such a big city and people are still getting behind the event.”

Reynolds said he regularly signs autographs and photos during the DoD Warrior Games and Invictus Games.

“It happens a lot at the events, which is pretty surreal,” he said. “I don’t see myself as anybody to be giving an autograph. I’ve probably given five or six today. People bring their kids out here, pulling them out of school to support us and get them motivated by some of these great athletes so it’s kind of cool.”

Cassandra said the best part of having the competitors and families all at the same hotel is the camaraderie. “We’re listening to each other’s music, and we’re dancing and celebrating,” she said. “Even though we may not speak the same language, just through visual and body cues, we can tell we’re all here fighting the same battles and supporting each other.”

Hug a Vet

Cassandra said she hopes events like the Invictus Games will spread awareness that there’s a wounded population out there.

“There are veterans who have served their country, and they’re assimilating back into their daily lives and their community. They would love your support, be it watching them compete or just thanking them. Just hug a vet,” she said.

Soldier Credits Adaptive Sports for Recovery, Medal Wins at Invictus Games



By Shannon Collins DoD News, Defense Media Activity

TORONTO, Sept. 30, 2017 — Army Spc. Stephanie Morris added a gold medal in discus, a silver in shot put and a bronze in hand cycle in the women’s track and field competition in her disability category here at the 2017 Invictus Games this week.

More than 550 wounded, ill and injured service members from 17 nations compete in 12 sporting events including archery, track and field, cycling, golf, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball Sept. 23 to 30 as they are cheered on by thousands of family members, friends and spectators in the Distillery District here.

Morris, a truck driver stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, earned a gold medal in the women’s hand cycle in her category, a gold in wheelchair basketball, silver in sit volleyball and a bronze in shot put at the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games and gold medals in the shot put, discus, hand cycle and wheelchair basketball and a bronze in sit volleyball at the 2016 DoD Warrior Games.

Injury

Morris joined the Army to follow in her brother, Marcus Matlock’s, footsteps. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I always follow everything my brother does,” she said. Her brother served for 11 years as a communications sergeant.

Just 14 months after joining the Army as a truck driver, Morris was injured when her vehicle received indirect fire and two rocket-propelled grenades during a deployment to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, June 18, 2013.

As she went through more than 30 surgeries over three years, she made the decision in April 2016 to amputate her leg and on July 1, 2016, she had it amputated.

“At first, it was a hard to make the decision,” she said. “It was more mental for me and not knowing what to expect but when I made the decision, and it finally happened, it was like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders because I had been struggling for three years.”

She said her mother was hesitant for the amputation because she was scared for her. “She didn’t know what to expect and how I was going to react to it,” Morris said.

Adaptive Sports

Throughout high school, Morris played basketball and tennis and ran track. As she started recovering at Walter Reed, her medical providers pushed her to give adaptive sports a try, she said. Since then, she said she feels like an athlete again and enjoys competing.

“It doesn’t matter whether she wins or loses, Stephanie just likes to compete,” Stephanie’s mom, Relda Bates, said. “The games have actually helped Stephanie. She was always into sports. Stephanie was always a competitor so having the games, the Warrior Games and the Invictus Games, is something that benefits Stephanie.”

Morris said the camaraderie among the competitors from the different service branches on Team U.S. as well as with the competitors from the other nations will last a lifetime. “Everyone wants to win but at the end of the day, you build bonds with these people regardless of where you come from,” she said. “We are all going through the same battles, and you build bonds with them. It’s going to go way past Warrior Games and way past the Invictus Games. These are the people we’re going to be able to call family or to reach out to when we have a problem.”

Resiliency

Morris said she hopes people who came out to watch the Invictus Games see how resilient the wounded, ill and injured service members from all branches and nations are.

“Some people are in a dark place when they come to these types of events but then they see everybody else, and it’s uplifting for them,” she said. “They realize how much stronger they are and realize how much more they can do or they do things they never thought they would be able to do. Adaptive sports is a big part of recovery because I know, for me, without adaptive sports, I would’ve been lost.”

She tells anyone who may still be in that dark place to not be scared of getting out of their comfort zone.

“Don’t be scared to try something new because in all honesty, rather you win or lose, you’re able to push yourself and bounce back and that’s what it’s really about,” she said.

Federal Emergency Response Working Smoothly, Puerto Rico’s Governor Says



By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2017 — Puerto Rico’s governor said the commonwealth and federal team combating Hurricane Maria’s devastation is working smoothly and every resource he has asked for is either on the island or on the way.

Food, water and fuel are flowing to the people most affected by the hurricane, Gov. Ricardo Rossello told reporters during a morning news conference from San Juan.

The governor praised the federal response led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and supported by the Defense Department.

Around 10,000 people are in government shelters, he said, although that is down from 15,000 a week ago.

“We had 500 shelters, but now that is consolidated to 150,” Rossello said. “We have 11 regional staging areas throughout Puerto Rico that have been receiving food and water.”

He noted that Puerto Rico’s road system is being cleared and deliveries are being made directly to municipalities now. There are still some communities, he added, where the hurricane’s devastation has made travel difficult.

Improving Communications

And, the number of communications antennas in operation has doubled from yesterday, Rossello said. FEMA and DoD are leading this effort.

“We have 100 percent of land-line telephones working now,” Rossello said, “although we still don’t have the robust telecom network -- it is at 33 percent.”

Airports and seaports are receiving shipments, said Rossello, noting Puerto Rico’s main airport is receiving 35 flights an hour and that traffic is expected to double within a week.

Opening Hospitals

Commonwealth medical experts have teamed with federal officials to examine hospitals and other medical facilities, the governor said. Part of the effort, he said, is to ensure the facilities have the fuel needed to power the generators supplying electricity. Fifty-one of the island’s 69 hospitals are open.

The improving hospital situation also points to progress on restoring the electrical grid, Rossello said, as nine hospitals now are working on external power.

Also, the hospital ship USNS Comfort is en route to Puerto Rico, the governor said.

Law enforcement officials and fire fighters from New York have arrived and they will work with Puerto Rican National Guardsmen around the island, Rossello said. Resources are also arriving from Kentucky, Alabama and Florida.

Power Generation

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working with local officials on power generation, water purification and sewage disposal since the storm hit, the governor said.

Much needs to be done on the island as it enters the recovery phase of operations, said John Rabin, the acting FEMA regional administrator.

“Everybody here is in support of our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico,” Rabin said. “Our cooperation and collaboration with the entire federal family -- the Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, the Department of Energy -- all that is on display on the effort that we are going through every day to provide the support and response and recovery to Puerto Rico.”