Marines from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune joined about 300 service members and veterans from around the world at the Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games, hosted by the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa Bay, Florida, June 21-30.
Athletes from SOCOM competed alongside fellow U.S. service members from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy as well as athletes from the United Kingdom Armed Forces, Australian Defence Force, Canadian Armed Forces, Armed Forces of the Netherlands and the Danish Defense Command.
Participants competed head-to-head in over a dozen different sports including archery, cycling, time-trial cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track & field, wheelchair basketball, indoor rowing, powerlifting, and for the first time in the history of the games, golf, wheelchair tennis and wheelchair rugby.
“The experience was awesome,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Durrell Jones who spent time stationed on MCB Camp Lejeune. “It was the best feeling that you could ever have.”
For Jones, it wasn’t winning gold in powerlifting that he will cherish most, but instead meeting new people and spending time with other wounded warriors that he will remember.
Gunnery Sgt. Raymond Archer, a Camp Lejeune Marine, had the same takeaway from the Warrior Games as Jones, which was simply being with fellow Marines facing similar situations.
“I tried to keep them up,” Archer said, who is a former combat engineer and drill instructor. “When I saw somebody down I’d come over to them and I’d try to pump them back up. I’d try to keep myself pumped up as much as I could [because] keeping myself pumped up pumped the team up.”
Thanks to Archer’s leadership, his teammates voted him Heart of the Team.
“That was completely shocking to me that they did that,” Archer said, a two-time Warrior Games participant. “It was a very humbling experience.”
“The thing that I enjoyed most about this experience was that I was able to be around men and women that are in the same boat as I am, be it wounded, ill or injured,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Andrew Pritchett, Wounded Warrior Battalion East. “We were able to compare stories and lift each other up.”
As much as Pritchett benefited from participating in the Warrior Games, he acknowledged that the experience can be just as gratifying for military spouses and families.
“Being a wounded, ill or injured athlete or caregiver can sometimes feel isolating,” Pritchett said. “This experience let us know that we are not alone and that there are others navigating the same waters we are.”
The Warrior Games were established in 2010 in order to help enhance the recovery and rehabilitation process of wounded warriors by exposing them to adaptive sports. Teams at the DoD Warrior Games included active military service members and veterans with upper-body, lower-body and spinal cord injuries as well as traumatic brain injuries, visual impairment, serious illness and post-traumatic stress. Some events were split into different classification categories based on the athlete’s functional abilities such as muscle power, range of movement, limb deficiency, visual impairment and more.
Comedian and television personality Jon Stewart served as master of ceremonies as country music artists Hunter Hayes performed at the opening ceremony and Sara Evans performed at the closing ceremony. All athletic competitions were open to the public and free to attend.
The Marine Corps will host the next year’s Warrior Games in San Antonio, Texas, Sept. 21-28. In order to make the 40-person roster, Marines must be selected to the team after participating in the Marine Corps Trials.
To learn more, visit www.dodwarriorgames.com. To learn how to get involved, contact your Wounded Warrior Battalion.