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Once on the Battle Field, Now on the Playing Field

The Warrior Games – Honoring those that once were on the battle field, but now on the playing field. Hosted in Colorado Springs, the Warrior Games is an Olympic-style event created in 2010 and open to all wounded, ill and injured military members and veterans. This year, more than 200 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans from the Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Special Operations Command, will have competed in seven sports: archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track & field, and wheelchair basketball. These athletes have amputations, prosthetics, brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress. “Soldiers who compete in the games signed up for military service to be something bigger and better than themselves,” says Brig. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, assistant surgeon general and commander, Warrior Transition Command. “They get after it every single day. It just shows the strength (of) Soldiers who have given some, and some have given all. They are the best of our country.”

Soldiers such as Lt. Col. Daniel Dudek compete in the Warrior Games. Dudek was injured July 9, 2007, when an explosively-formed penetrator came through the back of his Stryker in Iraq. Another Soldier was killed during the attack, Dudek said, and he was severely injured. “After a quick firefight and a helicopter ride, within an hour I had a laminectomy, surgery on my spine to release the pressure,” he said. “It gave me the ability to get my quads and hamstrings back. And so I had a long road ahead of me for recover.” Dudek’s injury has left him unable to walk without assistance, as he is paralyzed below both knees. “Nothing below the knee works; I have braces that let me get around. I think I get around okay. I use a wheelchair most of the time. But I am able to get around with forearm crutches, if I need to intimidate people.” Dudek said the chronic pain from his injury made it easy for him to gain weight, until a “really pushy person” got him playing golf again. “I started realizing a lot of the obstacles in front of me were just illusions I’d put in front of myself and I started swimming again and I started going skiing,” he said. “I started realizing a lot of things I used to do I could still do, I can do with an adapted piece of equipment. America’s behind me 100 percent in terms of equipment and facilities and expertise and so the community was there in a way that I had never seen before.” Since his injury, Dudek has participated in the Army Ten miler, a Sprint Triathlon and the Seattle-to-Portland cycling event. He also said he’s been a life-long swimmer, and he capitalized on his love of the pool during the Warrior Games. “I’ll take what I’ve learned the last two months and apply it and do my best to kick some butt in swimming,” he said. “That’s why I’m here and what I’m going to do for my Army.” Dudek served as commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord before he joined the Warrior Transition Command headquarters staff. There he serves as the Plans, Policy, and Procedures Branch Chief.

For retired Sgt. Sean Hook, an Altoona, Pa., native, the opportunity to mentor and interact with Soldiers were his main reasons for participating in the games. “Working with Soldiers is what I miss most about being in the military. I don’t think I even realized how much I missed it until I came here,” said Hook, who recently medically retired. Hook served five years in the active duty Army and had a seven-year break in service until he found out his local National Guard unit, the 56th Stryker Brigade, was deploying to Iraq. He said he felt compelled to do his duty and deploy. After getting his wife to agree, he deployed with the unit. During a patrol in the city of Abu Ghraib Hook’s unit encountered a vehicle borne improvised explosive device, which left him with a traumatic brain injury and severe damage to his shoulder. Hook did not realize the full extent of his injuries until after his deployment. The TBI resulted in balance and speech difficulties and the injury to his shoulder included a rotator cuff tear, a tear in the labrum shoulder joint, and damage to the ligaments that held his bicep in place. He heard about the Warrior Games in December 2011 and quickly decided it was something he wanted to pursue. Hook took up the sports of discus and shot put and qualified to make the team. He said it helped change the trajectory of his life. “It gave me my focus, drive, and determination back. I was just going through the motions of life,” Hook said. “Now I am more goal-oriented. It really helped.”

Emphasizing fitness and teamwork, the Warrior Games helps these soldiers heal. To read more remarkable stories of these athletes, visit the Department of Defense featuring the Warrior Games or visit the Games on Facebook.

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