U.S. Army Veterans Train in Wheelchair Basketball at the 2022 Invictus Games Team U.S. Training Camp
Retired U.S. Army Master Sgt. Earl Ohlinger prepares to compete in the 2022 Invictus Games by training in wheelchair basketball during the 2022 Invictus Games Team U.S. Training Camp, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, April 9, 2022. Team U.S is a part of more than 500 participants from 20 countries who will take part in The Invictus Games The Hague 2020 featuring ten adaptive sports, including archery, field, indoor rowing, powerlifting, swimming, track, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, and a driving challenge. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Rhianna Ballenger) (Photo Credit: Spc. Rhianna Ballenger) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — When Master Sgt. Earl Ohlinger was told he wouldn’t be able to stay in active duty after suffering a lower back injury, the unexpected retirement deeply affected him. Now that he’s representing the United States to compete in the Invictus Games in the Netherlands, he feels like he’s back and part of the team again.

Ohlinger, who hails from Puerto Rico and was at Fort Belvoir recently to train for the Games with his teammates, will be competing in cycling, basketball, and track. He's already competed twice as a member of Team Army in the Department of Defense Warrior Games. But this time, he's representing his country instead of his service branch.

“The pressure is even greater,” he said. “Obviously it’s a bigger stage. You want to go there and do the best that you can and work as hard as you can to represent the United States.”

He’s most looking forward to competing with his Army brothers and sisters again after his unexpected retirement.

“I didn’t want to retire,” he said. “I was really pushing them to let me stay.”

When the answer was “no,” he went to a “dark place” that affected not only him but his family, and so he realized he needed some time to adjust to reality. For a competitive person like Ohlinger, sports was key to that.

“It took me the first couple of months to really figure out that I was out, and that I need to start looking forward to this competition and get ready for it,” he said. “It really made me count the days to be here and feel like a part of the team again and back in the Army.”

It hasn’t taken long for that team to get some chemistry. While many of the athletes met each other for the first time at Fort Belvoir, where they trained before heading to the Netherlands, Ohlinger said they gelled quickly.

“It’s looking pretty good,” he said. “I know especially for the team sports we all want to be the alpha, and some have been captains in the Army, and we’re just trying to mash all of that together. I thought chemistry would be a little longer and harder, but we’ve been working pretty good together so far. I like that part.”