TAMPA, Fla. -- The opening ceremony of the 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games began with the traditional procession of service member athletes representing their countries. The national anthem for each country was played marking the international participation of the games, but when wounded warrior U.S. Army Maj. Luis Avila sang the Star-Spangled Banner, you had a sense these games were going to be special.
Comedian Jon Stewart was once again the master of ceremonies to officially open the games. He mixes humor with compassion and seriousness about wounded warriors that seems to resonate with service members and families. "Thank you very much for coming out to the Warrior Games, said Stewart. "We have had a tremendous day or two of competition. The athletes are finding out what it is like to be in a city that was built inside of a humidifier."
"We are here to celebrate these unbelievable athletes from all of the branches (of military service)," continued Stewart. "These are men and women that refuse to allow themselves to be defined by their worst day, but define themselves by their reaction to that day and the resilience, and the perseverance, and the dedication, and the camaraderie, and the family you are going to witness this week."
Stewart stated the athletes have gone through a lot to get to the games, but no one gets here by themselves. "The families and the caregivers so often work as hard as the athletes to get them prepared and to get them going and to be there," said Stewart.
Someone who plays a huge role in helping the families is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Fisher House, Kenneth Fisher. Fisher acknowledged the work with wounded warriors that Jon Stewart continues to do as an advocate for service members in and out of uniform, and focused on family support. "I have had the great honor of meeting so many of this nation's wounded people and never a day goes by when I am not inspired by you, amazed by what you have accomplished, and humbled by the unconditional support given to you by your families, your friends, your spouses, your children, by all those who love you the most."
Former President George W. Bush and U.S. Senator Rick Scott, Florida, sent videotaped messages to the athletes, wishing them well during the competition. Congresswoman Kathy Castor noted the fantastic job U.S Special Operations Command has done hosting this year's Warrior Games.
Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist had an opportunity to watch the Team Army wheelchair basketball team practice earlier in the day. "Coach Rodney Williams has those three-time defending champions looking pretty good," he noted. "They got Spc. (retired) Brent Garlic who was part of last year's team, and Staff Sgt. (retired) Ross Alewine, who is the defending Warrior Games Ultimate Champion."
Norquist welcomed and thanked all the international participants at this year's competition, and alluded to the qualification to participate in the games. "To compete in the Warrior Games, it is not enough to be strong, it is not enough to be fast. In the Warrior Games, there is a level of resolve; a unique ability to embrace and overcome adversity, that is the price of admission. Just to get to this event, it requires unbelievable grit and resilience."
Team Army family members could not hold back their emotions about how the DOD Warrior Games and supporting programs are honoring their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers. "Wow!" said Sue and Rich McLimans, parents of son Capt. Shannon McLimans. "This is amazing. The atmosphere is just electric. Everybody is in the same situation as everybody else. It is just something magical."
Tim Kane, father of Sgt. Tanner Kane, said, once their son got involved with adaptive reconditioning sports, he found a purpose to get up and out in the mornings. "Tanner didn't speak for two years and then he connected with other Soldiers, it all changed. Tanner realized his former state was wasting away at his spirit and this program was here to help and aid other Soldiers on their progress to healing."
Tiffany Weasner, wife of Sgt. Retired Johnathan Weasner said, "I know what this program has done for my husband Jonathan and our family. To look around this arena and see the joy on other families faces, I can only imagine what adaptive reconditioning has done for other families; it's a blessing."