JUNE 15, 2017, CHERRY POINT, N.C. (NNS) – Naval Health Clinic Cherry Point’s Petty Officer First Class Romulo Urtula is living proof not all wounds are visible. He has served his country for 17 years and has deployed numerous times. He has the scars to prove it.
Now, as a Wounded Warrior, Urtula will again test himself by participating in the Department of Defense 2017 Warrior Games.
The DoD Warrior Games highlight the strong spirit of wounded, ill or injured service members and introduces them to Paralympic-style sports, demonstrating the abundant potential of Wounded Warriors through competition. This year’s games will be held at several locations in Chicago including Soldier Field, McCormick Place Convention Center, the United States Center, the University of Illinois at Chicago Natatorium and Lane Tech Academy. The U.S. Navy, along with Boeing and Fisher House are this year’s sponsors.
The Games consist of eight sports: archery, cycling, field shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track, and wheelchair basketball. Urtula will compete in archery, shooting, swimming and track.
Urtula, a hospital corpsman, is currently serving as NHCCP’s Physical Therapy leading petty officer. His painful and frightening journey to the Warrior Games began in 2008, during a deployment to Iraq where he severely injured his back. He also suffered numerous concussions while riding in convoys.
“After receiving concussion after concussion, I became irritable, fatigued and dealt with frequent headaches and memory loss,” Urtula said. “Now, if I don’t write something down, I’ll forget it.”
Urtula resisted complaining about his headaches and back until the pain made it hard for him to bend over or get out of bed.
When he finally decided to go see his Primary Care Manager, X-rays revealed an L4 avulsion fracture. He was also referred to a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) clinic and currently sees a neurologist for his TBI. It’s a daily, on-going battle.
To complicate matters, Urtula was now showing signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from events which took place earlier in his career. After returning from a deployment in 2003, a Marine missed formation after a long weekend and was found dead in his barracks room. The cause of death was suicide. Urtula was crushed.
“I was so angry and I blamed myself because he was a part of my team; he even lived four doors away from me,” Urtula said. “I made sure all my guys came home and then for this to happen? I could not be consoled by my chain of command. I was a changed man after that.
“Now, years later, I found myself battling a more personal kind of wound,” Urtula said. “It got to a point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore and my wife forced me to see someone about it.”
“Everyone in my rehab group suffers from the same thing but our wounds come from different situations,” Urtula said. “There is one piece of advice we all agree on: we’re not living in the event, stop and think; don’t rush into your emotion and be proud of who you are.”
“It’s really great having another ‘family’ that can relate to what I’m going through,” Urtula said. “My group always reminds me ‘we are here for you when you need us,’ and having that kind of support system has really helped me deal with my PTSD. ”
Urtula knows that even though his wounds are invisible, they won’t disappear; but he plays an active role in managing them by stretching, staying involved in sports and working out to stay in good shape. He will compete alongside 40 active-duty members and five reservists on the U.S. Navy/Coast Guard team in the Warrior Games.
In addition to the Navy and Coast Guard, the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Air Force, will be represented in the games. Those teams, combined with the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces and the Australian Defense Force, will comprise the 265 Wounded Warriors participating in the games.
Urtula is using his participation in the Warrior Games as an opportunity to see how far he can push himself and he isn’t planning to stop in July. After the Warrior Games, Urtula hopes to compete for the U.S. team in the Invictus Games, similar to the D.O.D Warrior Games except on a much larger scale and involving teams from the United Nations making it a global affair.
Named after Medal of Honor recipient, Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class William D. Halyburton, the Naval Health Clinic Cherry Point provides high-quality patient care to more than 33,000 active-duty members and Department of Defense beneficiaries. In addition to outpatient surgical services, NHCCP offers Medical Home Port (including family care and pediatrics), dermatology, internal medicine, orthopedics, physical therapy, mental health, pharmacy services, preventive medicine, aviation medicine and radiology to include MRIs.
By Madison Marcantel, Naval Health Clinic Cherry Point Public Affairs