FORT BLISS, Texas - Walk upon a group of strangers and ask them what brought them together and they'll all point to one person. The glue, the one they look up to when they're down, because she's up cheering.
Sgt. Madeleine Morales hurts from post-traumatic stress disorder, delayed onset after a rough deployment to Iraq. Lots of people in tight spaces makes her anxious, nervous, but in this tight space, surrounded by people she's making everyone calm.
Now assigned to the Fort Hood, Texas Warrior Transition Unit, Morales fights and treats her PTSD with her Army family. One part of the fight, the cheering part, is the Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas, where she's competed in events from track to seated volleyball.
"These games matter, inside and outside of the Army," said Morales. "There's cliques there's a lot of people who are outsiders, you get PTSD, you get depression, you get called crazy."
But she's not crazy, she's a Soldier, a human being.
And with a daughter back in her hometown in Waipahu, Hawaii, it makes her a mother. It's her daughter who's central to her fight against PTSD, it's what her coach at the Army Trials calls an apple, a reason to push forward, to break the limit.
The Army Trials held on Fort Bliss, Texas from March 29 to April 2, are just that, a reaffirmation of being, while a competition for ill, wounded and injured service members, it doesn't focus on what's missing, it focuses on what's there.
"Some of us have the same illness, same pains, having them and having the support, makes us feel like one team, we push each other it's a family," said Morales.
For Sgt. Craig Netter also from Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Hood, Texas, affectingly calls Morales his sister, a sister who puts a smile on his face every day.
"She's an uplifter, she doesn't let us see her down," said Netter.
Her actions on the track brought that daily smile to Netter's face.
Morale's foot had been giving her pain throughout the Army Trials, but instead of stopping and taking the easy way out, she pushed through. She watched her fellow wounded warriors, some with prosthetic legs, get up, fall and then get up again to finish their races. She watched Netter have a tough time with his races. She wasn't going to let them down.
"I came to the middle of the 100 meter and [my ankle] collapsed on me," said Morales. "My daughter, my teammates immediately came to me, I had to finish."
She finished the 100 meter and then she got up again and finished the 200 meter.
"She not the one who wants to be number one, she's the one who's happy to part of the team, if she's first or sixth, and she's been like that as long as I've known her," said Netter.
A few hours later her she competed, ankle now wrapped, in seated volleyball.
A game of volleyball with a smaller, lower net and the players in a seated position on the court's floor.
The busted ankle gave Morales teammates just another rallying cry.
Yelling, cheering, one only needs to watch the intensity in Morales' eyes to understand the movement of the game.
Points and sideouts lead to high fives, huddles. Her teammates look to her, she thinks of her apple, her daughter.
It's the semifinal game, Morales' team takes the lead, they lose the lead, they tie it back up, finally the game reaches its break point.
The opposing team needs only one score to win.
The ball sails over the net, over the defending team's outstretched arms, but also over court's boundary. The ref whistles, game over. Morales' team loses, it's silent on her end of the court, but she gets up, dusts herself off and limps on her busted ankle toward her teammates. They huddle one last time, they yell on last time.
They still accomplished what they came to Fort Bliss for, to fight the pain.
"No matter how hard life is, no mater the pain, if you put your mind to it, set yourself to it and just focus on you, with everyone around you, there's a ton of people who will help you accomplish what you want to accomplish," said Morales.
Morales still has her apple and her team still has their glue.