JUNE 30, 2015, QUATICO, Va. (NNS) – The 39 seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen who competed on behalf of Team Navy won 43 medals — including 12 gold medals — at the sixth annual Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games June 19 – 28 in Quantico, Virginia.
Major Gen. Juan G. Ayala, commander, Marine Corps Installations Command, said about the DoD Warrior Games: “This is a holistic approach to ensuring our wounded, ill and injured warriors are given all the tools to recover, reintegrate and be part of a team again. It is a chance once again to put on a jersey and represent their service and represent their country. They are in the game again. It’s all about camaraderie and teamwork. They are back in a unit again.”
In the final days of the games, the volleyball competition ended early for Team Navy. The pressure was on for them to beat Team Special Operations Command Care Coalition (SOCOM) in the single elimination tournament. Team SOCOM showed no mercy winning the first game and looked determined to win the bracket despite Team Navy’s drive to reclaim the gold medal from last year’s games. Final score placed SOCOM on top 25 to 18.
Among the highlights of this year’s DoD Warrior Games was Team Navy’s two gold medal wins in the shooting competition. Retired Navy Airman Sadie Strong finished at the top in the air rifle prone (open) finals and the air rifle standing (open) finals.
“I just started practicing air rifle standing a month ago. I credit the coaches for my outstanding performance today. I usually stay calm, but in the beginning of prone, I felt my heart racing. Before I shot, I closed my eyes, took deep breaths and visualized a 10.9 score,” said Strong.
“I plan to continue shooting when I get home, setting my sights on the nationals competition or even the Olympics.”
Team Navy continued its positive momentum leading into the final DoD Warrior Games sports — swimming and track. The wounded warriors plunged into the pool and took home nine medals from various swimming events.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Ryan “Austin” Reese — who took home one gold and two silver medals — won his 50-meter freestyle heat after a stunning last-minute surge.
“I just heard coach yelling at me, so I swam faster,” Reese said, grinning. His teammates passed by his wheelchair for high-fives; among them, four would bring home medals for Team Navy, including Brett Parks, a medically retired air crewman. Parks won silver medals in the 50-meter freestyle, 50-meter backstroke and in the 100-meter freestyle.
“It’s like… when you’re home, out and about, you feel a little uncomfortable,” he said. “But not here.” Parks was shot twice while trying to break up a robbery in Jacksonville, Florida; when he woke from a coma 20 days later, he was missing his right leg below the knee.
“We’re in this together, in one unit,” he added. “I can feel safe in my own skin. We’re competing, but we’re also celebrating.”
Rear Adm. Raquel Bono was present at the Freedom Aquatic Center in Manassas, Virginia, to cheer on Team Navy. A former competitive swimmer and coach, Bono said she was impressed by the warrior-athletes’ form.
“It’s all so much fun to watch — people overcoming anything, helping each other and achieving a goal,” she said.
Track is often a sport where individuals shine, but for Team Navy, it was all about teamwork — with each other, and even with competitors.
Just ask retired Navy Lt. Steve Simmons, who kept pace with friend and Team Air Force competitor Jessie Graham as the two wheeled around the track for the 1,500-meter race. Simmons was disqualified from an earlier race; both he and Graham disagreed with the ruling, so they decided to cycle the 1,500 together.
When they neared the finish line, Graham let Simmons pull ahead, granting his friend the medal he missed earlier.
During the 4×100 relay, Team Navy used teamwork and precision hand-offs to snag the bronze in a lightning-fast contest. Parks, the relay anchor, held his Air Force competitor at bay as he blazed across the finish line.
Team Navy earned medals in the individual events, as well. Retired Navy Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Donald Jackson took gold in the 200-meter dash, making it look easy with a time of 23.9 seconds.
“I’m excited to be here with everyone else,” said the Seattle, Washington, native. “You know, everyone here has overcome something.”
Retired Navy Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Adrian “AJ” Mohammed took bronze in the men’s visually-impaired 200-meter dash. Mohammed, who was combat-wounded while on patrol in the Middle East, said he was initially hesitant to attend the DoD Warrior Games. He wasn’t sure how he’d react to a military environment after eight years of civilian life.
“I decided I’m ready,” he said with a grin. “And now I’m addicted.”
Thirty-nine seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen competed on behalf of Team Navy this year. The DoD Warrior Games were held June 19-28. Approximately 250 wounded warrior athletes participated in the competition.
Navy Wounded Warrior (NWW) — Safe Harbor, which sponsored Team Navy, is the Navy and Coast Guard’s wounded warrior support program. Team members had upper-body and/or lower-body injuries, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, visual impairments, serious illnesses and post-traumatic stress.