By John M. Rosenberg, Warrior Care and TransitionNovember 21, 2016
Beneath the elevated running track and spiral air ducts of the Pentagon Athletic Center, five teams representing the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Special Operations Command (SOCOM), competed in the sixth annual Warrior Care Month Joint Service Sitting Volleyball Tournament. Army entered the competition with great anticipation and delivered, taking first place in a hard-fought final match against SOCOM.
Heading into competition Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith, non-commissioned officer in charge, Warrior Care and Transition, Adaptive Reconditioning Division, set the tone by saying "Army always has expectations of winning."
Veteran, Spc. Terry Cartwright, sporting bright pink socks in honor of a family member stricken with breast cancer, took a somewhat different view, saying "Winning is just a bonus. We are here to have fun and to see each other again."
It was a common refrain amongst the Army athletes prior to the opening serve, but once the games were underway it was clear that everyone's competitive juices were flowing. Veteran, Staff Sgt. Randi Gavell was confident of victory but cautioned that Team Air Force, the defending champions, would be difficult to beat.
An air of excitement prevailed in the Army's first round matchup against SOCOM. Army took an early lead under the serving prowess of team captain, Veteran, Sgt. Monica Southall, and eventually won the three set match.
Army's next opponent was the Marine Corps.
In keeping with most Army versus Marine Corps sitting volleyball games, the morning matchup included lengthy volleys. Veteran, Sgt. Robbie Gaupp, another member of Team Army's warrior athletes at the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games, put a stop to several Marine Corps rallies with smashing hits that found the open parquet, as Army went on to win in convincing fashion.
The noon hour saw an exhibition match between senior leaders from the four services and SOCOM taking on select players from the warrior athlete teams. Afterwards, Deputy Chief of Staff, Warrior Care and Transition Col. Matthew St. Laurent noted how unusual it felt to be engaged in a sporting activity all the while sitting on the floor.
In sitting volleyball a player must have contact with the court with some part of the upper body at all times when playing the ball, except when making a play within the defensive free zone.
The Senior Leader team made a spirited effort, but ultimately fell to the warrior athletes. "Competition is still competition," said St. Laurent. "I was out there playing to win."
Lt. Col. Luis Fregoso, Synchronization Directorate Deputy at WCT, also addressed the difficulty of playing a sporting event while positioned on the floor, saying "It gives one a small taste of what it's like for these athletes in trying to adapt to a new norm."
Adaptive reconditioning events, such as the sitting volleyball tournament, are a key component of Warrior Care Month, commemorated each November as a way to recognize wounded, ill and injured service members, their families, as well as the individuals who care for them.
Responsible for keeping the team focused, Coach Linda Gomez said, "We have seasoned athletes who have fallen in love with this game, and I'm proud as always to be coaching this great group of people."
This marks the fourth year that Gomez has coached the Army team. Born and raised in Miami, she has three decades of coaching experience. Gomez praised the "scrappy play" of her team in pulling through to capture the first place trophy against SOCOM.
Amid the celebration Veteran, Sgt. Sean Hook said, "We came on strong as a team. Whenever we'd get down on ourselves individually over a mistake, our sense of camaraderie would come through, picking each other up in order to go on and win this thing."