By John M. Rosenberg, Warrior Transition CommandJune 18, 2016
WEST POINT, N.Y. (June 16, 2016) -- Tucked away within the heavily wooded confines of United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, is one of six U.S. mints. Constructed in 1937, it was originally a storage facility for silver bullion and was known as "The Fort Knox of Silver." Since the 1980s it has been a producer of silver and gold commemorative coins and medallions.
For seven days in June America's oldest continuous service military installation will abound with even more precious metal and medallions. Composed of custom-cast zinc and plated with gold, silver and bronze, these medals will be awarded across eight sports as The Point's famed athletic fields and sporting venues play host to the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games.
When adaptive sports athletes take their place atop the three-tiered podiums during Warrior Games medal ceremonies, these medallions will bear testament not only to their athletic prowess, but also to their steadfast strength and perseverance.
The Warrior Games is an adaptive sports competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and Veterans. Approximately 250 athletes are participating, representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom Armed Forces. The Games highlight the resiliency and warrior spirit of service members, Veterans, their families and caregivers.
The seventh annual Warrior Games, hosted for the first time by the Army, formally commenced on a seasonably warm Wednesday evening at West Point's Shea Stadium where hundreds of athletes, their friends, family, as well as support staff, dignitaries, media, senior leaders, and spectators gathered for the opening ceremony.
All around, people snapped photographs and selfies, while others gently fanned or shaded themselves with the day's program as the West Point Band, their brass instruments glistening in the late day sun, gave a pre-ceremony concert.
Team Army led the procession into the stadium to great ovation as Sgt. David Jones, currently at the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Veteran Master Sgt. Shawn "Bubba" Vosburg of El Paso, Texas, presented the Army flags. The athletes took to their seats in front of the podium that had been fabricated upon the artificial turf of the multi-purpose facility.
Early into the ceremony the Army parachute team, the Golden Knights, one of three Department of Defense-sanctioned aerial demonstration teams, thrilled onlookers as they spiraled downwards beneath a sky painted with wisps of crystalized cirrus before landing upon the adjacent athletic field.
Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart served as master of ceremonies in the hour-long event. Upon being introduced, the now-bearded Stewart surveyed the crowd before giving a stout "Welcome to Warrior Games!" salute.
During his opening remarks, Stewart reflected upon his invitation, saying "I didn't come up here to give my support to the athletes I came up here to get support from them. There is almost nothing in this world that gives me more support than witnessing the tenacity, the resiliency and the perseverance of these warriors."
Following Stewart was the Superintendent of West Point, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr., who paid homage to the vital support of families, calling them a "source of encouragement and motivation" to the wounded, ill and injured.
To U.S. Army Capt. Kelly Elmlinger, a medical-surgical nurse, stationed at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, as well as a prominent athlete within the world of adaptive sports competition, the day's event was bittersweet. Appearing in her final Warrior Games, the Attica, Ohio native felt "humbled" to serve as the captain of Team Army and in being granted the honor of lighting the Warrior Games cauldron.
Upon conclusion of the ceremony, Col. Christopher Toner, Commander of the Army Warrior Transition Command, which organized this year's Warrior Games, said "If you weren't stirred with emotion and pride at these opening ceremonies then you had best check yourself for a heartbeat."
Reveling with the gathered Army contestants was Under Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy who stated "If anyone out there has doubts about America, all they have to do is spend five minutes here with these warrior athletes. One can't help but be inspired by what's truly great about our nation."
It has been said that a champion is defined by the adversity that he or she overcomes. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Warrior Games.
For wounded, ill and injured athletes, adaptive sports offer a renewed sense of purpose. However, it's not all about winning gold, Elmlinger said. Though she has stood atop the medals podium countless times, Elmlinger said, "Even if I walked away without a medal, then I walk away knowing that I've done my very best."