Sunday, October 01, 2017

Retired Air Force NCO Adds to Medal Count at Invictus Games

By Shannon Collins DoD News, Defense Media Activity

TORONTO, Oct. 1, 2017 — When former Air Force volleyball and arena football player medically retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Sebastiana Lopez-Arellano almost died in a motorcycle accident in 2015, she said she never thought she would be able to play sports again.

“I didn’t lost consciousness when I hit the tree. I shattered my femur and my knee. I broke my femur in half and severed my femoral. My leg was flipped upside down,” she said.

After almost dying and sliding into a coma for a month, she woke up to an amputated leg and the knowledge that she was an above-the-knee amputee with quadriplegic hand function. Though she’s had more than 50 lifesaving surgeries and the scars to prove it, she said she doesn’t let them deter her recovery.

“I lost half my body weight; I went from about 160 to 80 pounds so I was struggling with my activities of daily living,” she said. Her recovery care coordinator at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, pushed her to go to an Air Force Wounded Warrior adaptive sports camp.


“I didn’t think I was ready to start any of the adaptive camps yet,” Lopez-Arellano said. “I was intimidated because of the weight loss but my recovery care coordinator was like, just give the camp a try. She didn’t tell me it was the tryouts of the [Department of Defense] Warrior Games team. I did really well there; medaled a bunch and made the team the first time around.”

She went on to medal at the DoD Warrior Games and at her first Invictus Games here this week, she took home the gold in the women’s lightweight division of powerlifting, a gold in the hand cycling time trial, a silver in hand cycling, the bronze in discus and the bronze medals in the 50-meter breast and 100-meter breast in swimming in her disability category.

More than 550 wounded, ill and injured service members from 17 nations competed 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.


As a first-generation American, Lopez-Arellano said she joined the Air Force because she felt like she owed something to her country.

“My family came here from Mexico. I have nine brothers and sisters and five out of 10 of us joined the military, all different branches of service,” she said. “It was kind of in our blood to join. My parents got their citizenships recently so they’re super-proud Americans now.”

Although Lopez-Arellano had trouble with her shifter on her hand cycle during her race, the former C-17 crew chief said she had the most fun she’s ever had on a race, thanks to her Team U.S. teammate, Air Force Capt. Christy Wise, who flies HC-130 aircraft and rides the upright cycles.

“I was having problems with my shifter, and it was a very technical course. She was having a hard time keeping up with the first two girls. As an above-the-knee amputee, it’s hard for her to keep up with the below-the-knee and the two feet, so she had a rough start, too,” Lopez-Arellano said. “We were both kind of in the dumps, so she was like, ‘You know what, I’ll pull you’ and what that means is, I’ll draft off of her and she’ll take some of the wind. We kept such a good cadence after that. At the end of it, we couldn’t stop smiling."

Wise is the first Air Force female pilot to return to active duty who has an amputated leg above the knee. “She’s a bad ass. I love her,” Lopez-Arellano said.

Lopez-Arellano said he’s also friends with many of the international competitors such as the U.K.’s Jen Warren and New Zealand’s Tina Grant. “Tina was here last year, and she’s always trying to get me out to New Zealand. I’m always so busy so it’s hard to make time to go out there, but hopefully soon,” she said. “I met this powerlifter, Sarah [Sliwka from Australia]. We swapped shirts the other day. That was pretty cool.”

Lopez-Arellano said that when the whistle blows or the gun goes off, everyone is competitive, but at the finish line, “Everyone’s waiting for you or they’ll come back and ride down with you.”

She added, “They honestly become lifelong friends in an instant. From last year’s games, I stayed in touch with most competitors on Facebook and followed their stories and have a home no matter where I go. If I want to travel and go to Australia or New Zealand, there’s always someone there with an open door there for you. They will open up their homes. It’s pretty awesome.”


Lopez-Arellano said she’s continually inspired by her fellow competitors at events like the DoD Warrior Games and Invictus Games.

“There are literally no limits. I see people do amazing things here,” she said. “Your injury doesn’t define you. You take control of your life. You take it back. A lot of these guys end up going to the Paralympics or starting businesses because it gives them that extra edge. I see triple and quadruple amputees swimming. Where else can you see that? We’re unstoppable.”

DoD Continues to Provide More Response Capacity to Puerto Rico

WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2017 — The Defense Department continues to deploy more response capacity to Puerto Rico to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s need for a commodities distribution network able to reach isolated communities and sustained medical support for the island’s residents, Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement this morning.

Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, who’s in command of DoD’s Hurricane Maria response and relief efforts in Puerto Rico, is leading the department’s efforts to establish aerial and seaport nodes of debarkation throughout Puerto Rico so that FEMA, with DoD support, can flow resources throughout the commonwealth, Davis said. Buchanan is being assisted by his deputy, Army Brig. Gen. Richard C. Kim.

DoD also is supporting the establishment of a medical support plan to best position medical support assets as they arrive in Puerto Rico, the spokesman said.

Army Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, Chief of Engineers and commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is in Puerto Rico overseeing temporary power installation, electrical distribution repairs, infrastructure improvements and Guajataca Dam reinforcement, Davis said.

Sixteen helicopters from Fort Bliss, Texas, will deploy to Puerto Rico Oct 2-3 on a C-5 Galaxy aircraft strategic lift mission, the spokesman said.

The Navy’s amphibious assault ship USS Wasp and additional Marine Corps rotary wing aircraft are en route to support operations in Puerto Rico, Davis said.

The Navy hospital ship, USNS Comfort, is scheduled to arrive in San Juan Oct 4, he said.

Davis provided the following updates and details of hurricane relief operations in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean region:

Puerto Rico Situational Update

-- Showers and thunderstorms have recently challenged operations, and an additional three to five inches of localized rain is possible through tomorrow.

-- FEMA reports assessments of 64 of 69 hospitals complete; 59 are partially or fully operational.

-- Seven-hundred-fourteen of 1,100 retail gas stations have reopened.

-- Forty-nine percent of grocery and big box stores are open. Eleven percent of Puerto Rico has cell service.

-- Erosion repairs to the Guajataca Dam will be conducted Oct. 1-2. The port of Ponce is now open.

U.S. Virgin Islands Situational Update

-- An assessment of the main hospital on St. Thomas will be completed today.

Details of DoD Response in Puerto Rico

-- U.S. Northern Command is deploying five Force Packages with enhanced logistics capacity, centered on commodity distribution and medical support, and designed around a sustainment brigade. Force Package 1 (Command and Control) is on the ground.

-- Lieutenant General Buchanan led a DoD assessment yesterday and has the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command integrated with FEMA in development of an area-wide concept of operations focused on sustainment and commodities distribution. Facilities are being established throughout Puerto Rico for aerial and seaport nodes of debarkation to flow resources throughout the island.

-- Force Packages 2 and 3 are sustainment/logistical units and associated command and control; elements of Force Package 2 deployed into Puerto Rico yesterday. Additional sustainment units and aviation elements deploy today. Force Package 4 will follow and deliver helicopters on Oct 2-3, aviation command and control elements and medical units. Force Package 5 will provide more robust medical capacity.

-- The USS Wasp, with three embarked MH-60 rotary wing aircraft will arrive Oct 3, and will embark 10 additional aircraft -- six MH-60s and four CH-53s. The Marine Corps has identified eight additional MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and two KC-130 fixed wing aircraft that will self-deploy to support operations on Puerto Rico.

Three U.S. Department of Health and Human Services disaster medical assistance teams are providing “hub-and-spoke” delivery of medical care from Mayaguez, Arecibo and Ponce. The USNS Comfort is expected to dock in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Oct 4, providing 522 medical personnel and capable of serving over 200 patients per day.

-- The port of Ponce was opened with restrictions on Sept. 30, with a draft restriction of 38 feet. Roosevelt Roads survey is complete with port opening assessment expected today.

-- The Guajataca Dam spillway continues to erode. U.S. Transportation Command delivered 900 super sandbags for spillway stabilization to Aguadilla Airport Sept. 30.

-- Spillway sandbag installation by the Army Corps of Engineers commences today and will be complete by Oct 2.

Foreign Disaster Assistance
-- U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Task Force Leeward Islands continues evacuations on Dominica. Following the evacuation of priority U.S. citizen medical cases, the task force will transition to on-call status.