Reflections of a Wounded Warrior agent

QUANTICO, Va. --

The Air Force Wounded Warrior Program invited me to attend the Air Force Trials at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 22 through March 4. The Trials are the annual competitions to determine which adaptive athletes enrolled in the Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) Program will represent the Air Force at the DOD Warrior Games.

There were approximately 150 competitors at the trials, but only would 40 advance to the Warrior Games.

Most adaptive athletes try all the different sports during regional camps and then choose a few to focus on at the Trials. Since this was my first event with AFW2, I went into the Trials not knowing what to expect and signed up for 10 events in four different sports: seated volleyball; track (100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 meter dashes); indoor rowing (1 and 4 minutes) and shooting (seated air rifle and standing one-armed air pistol). I had almost no physical training in the preceding months so I didn’t expect to doing anything more than compete, get an idea how things work and then return for later events to train as a mentor.

My competitive nature wouldn't let me give less than 100 percent in every event, even though I haven't sprinted competitively in 20 years and have never rowed at maximum effort. As a result, I ended up with some leg injuries that forced me to hold back the throttle in a few events and drop from a few others. I still finished the Trials with a silver medal in the open (able-bodied) class for the 400 meter dash and my integrated 4x100 meter relay team also took the silver, despite dropping the baton.

I placed 7th in the 200m and 8th in the 100m dashes plus 7th in the one minute row. I was singled out by the volleyball coaches as one of the top players out of the more than 50 players, and my team (out of eight) made it to the bronze medal match, but couldn’t bring the medal home. In pistol shooting I made it to the top five following elimination shoot-offs, and was in third place when I had a bad round (two shots) and was passed by two other marksmen and eliminated. I shot well and had tight groupings in the seated air rifle, but I adjusted my sights in the wrong direction half-way through my 40 qualification rounds. Too many shots went just above the bullseye, so I didn't make the top eight to qualify for the final shoot-out.

In the end, the AFW2 coaches selected 40 primary and 10 alternate athletes to be on the Air Force team for the DOD Warrior Games. These 50 competitors are a mix of able-bodied and "disabled" athletes based on their injuries and the likelihood of them winning a medal in their specific medical classification (able-bodied, leg amputee, vision impairment, etc.). Since athletes can't make the primary Warrior Games team just for volleyball, (and I'm able-bodied), I was selected as an alternate for the shooting, volleyball and track teams.

All 50 members of the Air Force Warrior Games team must attend a training camp at Eglin AFB, Fla., April 24-28, where everyone will be reassessed and alternates will replace primary team members if warranted. Which means, I have until then to prepare to fight for one of those primary team member slots. After the Eglin training camp, the 40 primary team members will advance to the DOD Warrior Games in Chicago June 28 to July 9. Prior to that the volleyball team is scheduled to compete in the USA Volleyball National Tournament in Minneapolis May 29-31.

Which brings me to why I'm in the AFW2 Program.

Last fall, the Air Force automatically enrolled all active duty Purple Heart recipients into AFW2. My Purple Heart resulted from when I was a Security Forces member on the Joint Staff. My three-man team was on duty at the Pentagon on 9/11.

At about the time of the automatic enrollment, I visited my doctor at Tyndall AFB, Fla., and learned the Air Force was unaware I was diagnosed with mild Traumatic Brain Injury in 2015, while I was at the Air Force Office of Special Investigations Headquarters, Quantico, Va. I was tested and treated at the TBI Clinic at Ft. Belvoir, Va., and we believed the TBI injury (which MRI brain scans confirmed) was from my AFOSI Weapons Intelligence Team tour in Iraq in 2007.

Since the TBI clinic was Army and my medical care was through a Navy clinic on Marine Corps Base, Quantico, the Air Force was out of the loop. At my level, the only people at AFOSI/HQ who knew I was going to weekly appointments at the TBI clinic were my immediate leadership and one or two co-workers. This meant I was never identified to AFW2 at the time and I was never coded in the system, thus I was able to take a permanent change of station assignment to Tyndall in December, 2015.

My care manager at the TBI clinic didn't want me to PCS. She wanted me to continue my treatment and thought the stresses of being a large detachment superintendent would exacerbate the cognitive issues I was already experiencing. But I argued against her advice and said I'd get treatment at Tyndall. I didn't want to be "that guy" who used a medical excuse to get out of an assignment.

In hindsight we know how well that went for me. That’s the main reason I'm in AFW2 now, to get back into treatment (Eglin recently opened a TBI clinic and I have a referral) and use sport as a rehabilitative tool.

While I participated in some of the events this time around, my plan is to become a peer mentor for others at future events.

(Editor's Note: A Weapons Intelligence Team (WIT) provides battlefield forensics, specifically, counter Improvised Explosive Device (IED) intelligence through collection, analysis and tactical exploitation.)