By Shannon Collins, DoD News, Defense Media Activity
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Senior military leaders and celebrities teamed up to signal the official start of the 2018 DoD Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium here yesterday.
Comedian Jon Stewart, joined by singer Kelly Clarkson, introduced Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the event’s opening ceremony.
This year’s Warrior Games competitions began June 1 and conclude June 9. About 300 wounded, ill and injured service members representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command, along with allied armed forces from the United Kingdom, Australia, and for the first time at Warrior Games, Canada, are competing in shooting, archery, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, powerlifting, time trial cycling and indoor rowing.
Stewart told the audience that he’d once shared a global USO tour with Selva.
“We went on a C-17. I would like for you to finish the inside of it. It was really loud and uncomfortable. But then when we got to Afghanistan, they put us on a C-130. Apologize for saying anything mean about the C-17,” Stewart, a son of a Vietnam veteran, said, eliciting laughs from the athletes and fans in the crowd. “You know what sounds a lot cooler than it sounds -- a combat landing. Halfway through, when my buttocks were in my ear, well, it was truly an honor.”
Stewart said he noticed that Selva cares very much about service members and their families.
“You are his family. He cares so deeply about every service person out there and their families and what they do,” Stewart said of Selva. “And, he and his wife are just the most impressive and loving and loyal couple you could ever hope to be around.”
For Selva, being at Falcon Stadium was a return home. Thirty-eight years ago, Selva said, he and his wife, Rickie, marched into the stadium and 90 minutes later, left as second lieutenants.
Selva said a group of volunteers put together the first Warrior Games in Colorado Springs eight years ago. “Their vision was to demonstrate the toughness and the resiliency of the men and women of our armed forces, and they did a fine job,” he said. “The games haven’t changed much since. They’ve gotten a little more spectacular but the heart of these games is these 300 men and women who sit in front of me tonight -- our athletes. You are all special, and we all owe you a debt of gratitude.”
Selva and his wife visited with the athletes at the track and field medal matches. “We got to meet Ross, Ben, Rafael and Abbie, four of the athletes who are giving their all,” he said. They have conquered challenges you and I would think are insurmountable. I’m humbled to be in their presence. All of you are an inspiration for the rest of us.”
Selva said the highlight of his and Rickie’s day was spending time with the athletes’ families and seeing and hearing the parents’, spouses’ and children’s pride and confidence in their athletes’ accomplishments.
“They just exude that pride and confidence. They talk about your coaches, caregivers, friends and the people who trained with you -- the men and women who made this possible,” Selva said. “They brag about you. To all the athletes, thank you for being an inspiration. This week is all about sportsmanship and camaraderie. It’s about making friends. It’s about being the heroes that you are.”
Lighting the Torch
Stewart and retired Air Force Master Sgt. Shanon Hampton practiced teamwork during the torch lighting. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro Jr., a 2010 inaugural games athlete, began the torch passing to representatives of each branch of the service until Hampton had the flame for the big cauldron on the stage. As Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein told him to light the cauldron, he reached up to light it but strong winds prevented him from doing so.
Goldfein announced the official opening of the 2018 DoD Warrior Games but Stewart jumped in, getting an assist from stage support for a ladder. A stage hand lit the torch.
“Done -- we are open for business,” Stewart said.
Hampton said he was honored to carry the torch. “It is difficult to put into words the honor I was given to carry the torch for the Air Force and the Warrior Games. To once again serve with the Air Force, with my teammates, for my country and for God will be a memory I will cherish the rest of my life,” Hampton said. “We all have faced trials, hardship and heartache to get where we are at, but some things are just worth hurting for. Go Air Force!”
Army Staff Sgt. Altermese Kendrick, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, at the Garrison Chaplain Family Life Training Center, also served as a torchbearer.
“It was the largest honor I could’ve imagined,” she said.
Goldfein said the DoD Warrior Games represent the power of the human spirit. “There’s this old saying, ‘Age wrinkles the body but quitting wrinkles the soul,’” he said. “And while all of us grow older, not all of us grow stronger as we age. The athletes we celebrate this week show us how to grow stronger over time as they conquer the daily challenges in mind, in body, in spirit.
Warrior Games athletes are not “defined by illness, injury or the invisible wounds of war,” Goldfein said. “They’re defined by their courage, their determination, their grit, their resilience and their friends and family who cheer them on here and at home.”
He added, “Every athlete’s story is unique and deeply personal, built with common threads of strength and resilience. And these Warrior Games allow all of us, from both here and watching from home to recommit that no warrior takes the road to recovery alone. Family, friends and caregivers -- we’re on your wing for life. It’s a full contact team sport. And within the profession of arms it’s family business.”
Goldfein also announced a new DoD Warrior Games tradition and presented an official DoD Warrior Games flag to Air Force Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, commander of the DoD Warrior Games this year.
“It’s a true honor for us and an incredible opportunity to be with everybody from northern America and the international service,” said torchbearer Royal Canadian Air Force Warrant Officer Yves Lacasse. “It’s a real brotherhood. On the first day, Marine Corps, U.K., Air Force, Socom, even if you didn’t know the guy, everybody gives hugs, shakes hands. We share the same stories. We live the same lives. We meet the first day, and it’s like we already know each other.”
“We’re so excited, and we feel really lucky to be here. We’re pumped to do our best, and the results don’t matter as long as we do our best,” Australian Navy Leading Seaman Vanessa Broughill said.
This is Broughill’s first Warrior Games. “It’s such an amazing and inspirational experience,” she said. She went to the U.S. Navy trials in Florida.
“I made friends with them back in Florida, and some of them feel like family now. I just can’t believe how amazing this is,” Broughill said.
She said she hopes to make the Invictus Games team. But if she doesn’t, she’ll be there to support.
Team Army has a “heart for winning, a heart for camaraderie, a heart for representing Army, still Army strong,” said Kendrick, who has been selected for the Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia, in October.
“I’m making friends so we know who to meet up with when we get over there; it’s going to be great,” she said. “We’re cheering on Australia regardless of whether we’re competing against them or not, so we’re their support system here at the games.”
Clarkson said she was honored to return to the Warrior Games to perform a free concert for the athletes and their families.
“It was such a blessing to do the first one. It’s such an honor. Thank you so much for your service,” she said. “Thank your families for the sacrifice that you all make.
Stewart earlier had jumped with the Air Force’s Wings of Blue parachute team and joked about his trouble keeping his breakfast down.
Goldfein joked, “Thank you Jon Stewart for joining the Wings of Blue and jumping out of a perfectly good airplane today. I just hope we were able to replace the breakfast you lost on the way down.”
This is Stewart’s third year as host of the Warrior Games.
Athletes at the Warrior Games “will go to any lengths for their teammates, for the victory, and I hope you’re not here just to support them but to learn from them,” Stewart told the opening ceremony audience.
“Whenever I spend time with the athletes at the Warrior Games,’ he added, “I hope that just a fraction of their tenacity, their honor, their grace, their resilience and their teamwork will inspire me to do better in my life every day.”
The Warrior Games was created in 2010 as an introduction to adaptive sports and reconditioning activities for service members and veterans.
The U.S. Olympic Committee led and organized the Warrior Games from 2010 to 2014, hosting them each year in Colorado Springs. In 2015, the DoD assumed responsibility for planning and organizing the Warrior Games, having a service branch host the games each year.
The Marines hosted in 2015 at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, and then handed it off to Army at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. The Navy hosted last year in Chicago, near its basic training center.
Adaptive sports and reconditioning are linked to a variety of benefits for wounded, ill and injured service members across all branches of the military. Benefits include less stress, reduced dependency on pain and depression medication, fewer secondary medical conditions, higher achievement in education and employment and increased independence, self-confidence and mobility.