By Shannon Collins, DoD News, Defense Media Activity
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games, described by a senior Air Force leader as ‘absolutely’ successful and inspirational, drew to a close at the U.S. Air Force Academy here, June 9.
After a week of competition, more than 608 medals were presented at over 11 events to athletes from the Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Army, U.S. Special Operations Command, as well as the United Kingdom, Australian and Canadian armed forces.
For the first time in DoD Warrior Games history, the games hosted the Canadian armed forces, held three new sports -- indoor rowing, powerlifting and the cycling time trial and held a two-day sports expo, where 450 family members experienced wheelchair rugby and tennis, family archery and shooting and sled hockey, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, 2018 DoD Warrior Games director.
Grosso recognized the athletes, families, Air Force Academy team, the mayor of Colorado Springs and the hundreds of volunteers who supported the games.
Inspirational Warrior Games
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen W. Wilson said the success of the games could be measured “by the smiles given and shared by the lives saved, by the steps forward the athletes are making and by the inspiration that you’ve given to everyone here.”
“If that’s how we define success, I’d say these games were absolutely, unbelievably successful,” Wilson said.
This year’s Warrior Games also showcase unity among the participating partners and allies, Wilson said. “For all of our coalition partners, just like we fight together, we compete together,” he said. “You make us all better and stronger. There’s never been a more important time in our nation to have partners and allies and friends like you. Thank you, very much.”
Wilson said the athletes are an “inspiration for not only the Department of Defense, but for this whole nation and all of our partner nations.”
Wilson also thanked the coaches, caregivers, supporters and families.
Jon Stewart, who’s hosted the DoD Warrior Games for the past three years, also congratulated the athletes and their families.
“It’s an honor,” Stewart said. “I walk out of here twice the man I was walking in here, and you all make that possible. I’m so thankful for the opportunity. From my family to you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything you do.
“You’re the best of us. Thank you,” he added.
The athletes recognized Stewart’s work at the games for the past few years by giving him heartfelt thanks and a DoD Warrior Games flag signed by the athletes and their families.
Honoring the Fallen
During closing ceremonies, the Air Force band, “Blue Steel” played an acoustic version of “Amazing Grace” as photos were displayed to honor previous DoD Warrior Games athletes who’ve passed away in the past year -- Air Force Capt. Chris Cochrane, 2016 torchbearer, Air Force Capt. Austin Williamson, 2017 torchbearer and Ultimate Champion silver medalist, and U.S. Special Forces Command’s Army Staff Sgt. Luke Yetter, who earned the Heart of the Team award in 2017.
“One of the more difficult parts about these games is that while you all come together as a family, and you leave here as one, among the highs of the games of the competition, we do sometimes lose a brother or sister along the way,” Stewart said. “Let’s take a moment to honor them.”
To earn the Ultimate Champion title, athletes compete in their respective functional classifications in eight sporting events. Each service branch was allotted two slots. Ultimate Champion athletes earned points based on their individual results in the events. The Ultimate Champion is the athlete who earned the most points in the eight sporting events. Army Staff Sgt. Ross Alewine earned the gold medal, Air Force Senior Airman Rafael Morfinencisco earned the silver medal and Army Staff Sgt. Altermese Kendrick took home the bronze medal.
“It’s amazing to take home the gold in Ultimate Champion; I couldn’t have done it without the support of Team Army and the support of the cadre,” said Alewine, who earned gold in wheelchair basketball, rowing and track and field, two silver medals in swimming and a bronze in cycling.
“I’ve been training every day, six days a week. I’ve lost 41 pounds in two-and-a-half months,” Alewine added. “I wanted to show other guys who are injured like me that if I can do it, any of you guys can do it. I also wanted to make my daughters, Carson and Kenney, proud. Go Army!”
Kendrick said he was honored just to be among the competition for the Ultimate Champion title. “I’ve given it my all, I always can find something to improve on,” he said. “If I’m able to come back again, I’m going to snag it.”
Kendrick earned gold medals in the 100-meter hand cycling in the time trial event and in the indoor rowing 1-minute sprint race and a silver medal in the powerlifting 70-kilogram in her disability category.
Kendrick, a chaplain assistant with the Chaplain Family Life Training Center, Fort Hood, Texas, said her coaches motivated her so much last year, she learned how to swim so she could compete in swimming at this year’s Warrior Games.
“The team is great this year, the coaches are magnificent. To just be with them every year and to just show what they have helped us to accomplish, it’s amazing,” Kendrick said. “I didn’t know how to swim. I had to go home and get into the water. I met with Coach Abita in the pool here. He’s an awesome coach and did more swimming than I’ve ever done in my life. It was a huge accomplishment for me.”
Kendrick said her family and leadership cheered her on every step of the way. “My chaplain, [Army Lt. Col.] Steve Moser, and his wife, they’re my greatest fans,” she said. “I really love them, and thank them for their prayers and their support. I also thank my family, my sister, Sharon, and those who came to visit, like my brother, Carolos, and my nephew, Army Capt. Dion Theres at Fort Carson. I really do thank them for their support, as well as the support of Team Army, the Airmen, Marines, U.K., all of us, thank everyone for all of their support. We appreciate everyone’s support. Go Team Army!”
Heart of the Team
The athletes said they felt a sense of accomplishment by winning their medals, yet most of them said their biggest takeaway from the week was the sense of camaraderie and friendship. The Heart of the Team award is awarded to one member on each team who best exemplified character, integrity and sportsmanship. The teams chose who received the awards.
The recipients are: Army Spc. Brent Garlic, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jason Pacheco, Navy medically retired Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Dieli, U.S. Special Operations Command Army Master Sgt. George Vera, Royal Air Force veteran Cpl. Michael Bates, Australian Leading Seaman Vanessa Broughill and Canadian Master Cpl. Charlene Kendell.
“I was very surprised to get this. I thought James Howard should’ve gotten it,” said a surprised Vera. It sums up what Socom is all about: putting ourselves last every time, no matter what. We’re all about team and family.”
“I’m very proud of my dad and all of the hard work he’s done,” Vera’s daughter, Isabella, 11, said. “Even if you’re in a wheelchair like my dad, you can do more than you think.”
Passing the Torch
Team Air Force’s Master Sgt. Shay Hampton passed the torch to Wilson, who passed the torch to Socom’s commander, Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, who passed the torch to Socom’s Army Sgt. 1st Class Brant Ireland, officially closing the 2018 DoD Warrior Games.
“Thank you General Wilson, General Grosso, the DoD Warrior Games staff and the United States Air Force Academy for hosting a tremendous Warrior Games 2018,” Thomas said. “Thanks as well to Jon Stewart. Congratulations to all the athletes who competed and a special thank you to the families of our warriors. You are the rock and an inspiration to us all.”
Next year, Thomas said, the U.S. Special Operations Command will host the Warrior Games in Tampa, Florida.
“I hope to see you all there,” he said.