By By Erich Langer, WTC Public AffairsFebruary 2, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Army News Service, Feb. 1, 2010) -- Wounded warriors took aim at becoming members of the Army's 2010 Warrior Games team at a shooting clinic set up just for them last week by the elite Army Marksmanship Unit, here.
The second annual Warrior Games, scheduled for May 16-21 at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., will feature 200 wounded, ill and injured servicemembers from all branches of the armed forces.
Last year Army athletes took nearly every gold medal and the lion's share of silver and bronze medals in shooting events. Building on that success will be difficult, said Master Sgt. James Shiver, but he believes with training, instruction and mentorship from the Army Marksmanship Unit, the Army is raising the bar.
"The Army Marksmanship Unit has been extremely supportive of our Warrior Games shooters," said Shiver, Warrior Transition Command's NCO in charge of Adaptive Sports.
Throughout last week's clinic, warrior athletes learned shooting skills and techniques from some of the world's finest instructors and shooters. AMU cadre include Olympic champions, world champions and U.S. national champions who have responsibilities of training Soldiers and competing in world-class venues that highlight the Army's expertise in all things shooting.
In marksmanship and shooting circles, civilian and military, the AMU is recognized as the 'gold standard; similar to the Army Golden Knights in the parachuting world.
"It is awe-inspiring, quite frankly jaw-dropping for our athletes to have this opportunity to learn from these outstanding shooters," Shriver said. "I hope each will seize this opportunity and, hopefully, by working hard this week, we'll ultimately improve on last year's success against the other services."
Soldiers at the 2nd Annual Warrior Games will compete in several sports including shooting, swimming, archery, track and field, cycling, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.
The 23 Army athletes vying to earn coveted spots on the Warrior Games team got an adrenaline rush to see three of their own on Fort Benning's AMU training team. Long-time AMU instructor and Army Wounded Warrior Program's Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson has been on staff for several years.
Two additional Soldiers were familiar to many clinic participants who competed at the 2010 Games. AW2 Sgt. Robert Price and Sgt. Kisha Makerney competed at Warrior Games 2010 and were selected to join the elite AMU cadre. Each is on orders to AMU for three years, a tenure that can be extended if they continue to excel.
PRICE SERIOUSLY INJURED
Price was the most seriously injured member of his team when his vehicle was struck by nine explosively formed projectiles as he supported combat operations in Iraq. His injuries resulted in a below-the-knee amputation of a leg. A proficient archer and marksman, Price demonstrated the grit and determination the AMU leadership team sought.
"Sergeant Price didn't let the severity of his injuries keep him from achieving his goals," said Shiver. "He couldn't walk, but set a personal goal to walk with his young daughter on her birthday. Once that was achieved, he was determined to pass the standard Army PT test - with no alternative events. Following this accomplishment, Price became a champion archer."
Price is an outstanding example that how grit and determination can prevail in overcoming what may seem to be insurmountable obstacles," continued Shiver.
"I really wanted to continue to be a Soldier despite my injuries," said Price, who is one of a growing number of Soldiers who decide to take advantage of the Army's Continue on Active Duty, or COAD program. "In addition to losing my leg, I sustained hand injuries that make it impossible to use a recurve bow. I can shoot a compound bow, but Paralympics only has a recurve archery category. I really want to be a Paralympic athlete and the AMU has given me the opportunity to train and possibly compete as a shooter in the Paralympics."
MAKERNEY REDEPLOYED AFTER INJURY
Makerney completed one tour in Iraq as an Oklahoma National Guard Soldier. Soon after returning home from her deployment, she was severely injured when the motorcycle she was driving spun out of control. The damage to her leg was so severe that it required amputation.
"I was on my way to rent a movie from the video store when the crash occurred," explained Makerney. "Following my rehabilitative therapy, I couldn't wait to rejoin my Guard unit. I really love being a Soldier and can't think of anything else I'd rather do."
It wasn't long before she was training for another Iraq deployment. This time she would work in detainee operations and help train Iraqi security forces.
"When I got off that plane in Baghdad, I breathed deeply, thanked God and kissed the ground in appreciation," she said. "I was back!"
Growing up in an area of southeastern Oklahoma commonly referred to by locals as 'Little Dixie', Makerney learned from her grandpa how to hunt and shoot a rifle. She still uses these important life-skills, today.
"When I got back from Iraq, my daddy and I built a small two-story cabin on a piece of land I bought in Oklahoma," she said. "It has a nice balcony overlooking the woods that makes a great deer stand."
Since arriving at AMU last fall, Price and Makerney haven't had time to do much hunting. Tasks like preparing to instruct the next crop of Warrior Games' athletes is their current short-range target.
BIONDOLILLO AIMS FOR PARALYMPICS
For former Buffalo, N.Y., firefighter and retired Army Reserve Maj. William Biondolillo, adaptive sports have proven very helpful to his recovery. Before sustaining severe back injuries during an Iraq deployment, Biondolillo was an avid runner and athlete who described himself as a competitive guy who really enjoyed outdoor sports.
In 2001 he was one of many New York firefighters who worked at Ground Zero following the attacks on the World Trade Center, Sept. 11, 2001.
"I was a pretty good athlete and I ran a lot. I've always found that getting outside and running or doing other sports allows me to clear my head and focus better. It's very therapeutic for me," he said. "I really like the adaptive sports programs that are now available for wounded warriors and the friendship of association by being with other Soldiers as we train for a new sport or fine tune our skills in an area we have expertise."
"I've decided I really want to be part of Warrior Games in 2011 and will submit a packet," he said. "Right now, I'm considering prone rifle, sitting volleyball and the
ultimate warrior categories."
Biondolillo was medically retired in 2006 and was an early member of the AW2 program and continues to rely on his AW2 advocate to learn about adaptive sports programs and other initiatives.
"AW2 has come leaps and bounds since the program was initiated in 2004. Of course, additional specialized staff and more AW2 advocates in the field are important linkages for me," he said. "I love being around Soldiers and the adaptive sports programs and Warrior Games is a great way for me to stay involved and motivated."
Although winter sports are not Warrior Games events, Biondolillo is keeping his fingers crossed for future possibilities. He currently participates in a Paralympic biathlon training program that is underway in Syracuse, New York. "Today, the program is composed primarily of former Marines but I'd like to see more Army athletes participate. The goal is to train American biathlon Paraathletes and ultimately compete for medals and beat the Russians."
Biondolillo agrees this is a tall order since the Russians and Nordic nations have long dominated this skiing/shooting event.
McCLAIN YOUNGEST ATHLETE
While Biondolillo may be one of the AMU clinic's older athletes, Pfc. Latoya McClain from the Fort Bliss, Texas, WTU likely is the youngest. The South Carolina native was serving in Kirkuk, Iraq, when she suffered a heat stroke that nearly killed her on May 31, 2010. The stifling heat registered over 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, an Army medic rendered prompt medical assistance. Her recovery included stays in Army hospitals in Balad, Iraq; Germany and Texas.
While in Germany, she was confined to a wheel chair for six weeks as she recovered and learned how to walk again. The enthusiastic Soldier with a captivating smile and positive attitude to match takes it all in stride and is enthusiastic about becoming a better shooter at the AMU clinic.
"I never shot a weapon before basic training. I kept messing up when it came to shooting, but my drill sergeant and the trainers were patient and worked with me. I paid attention and got better," she said. "I shot sharpshooter at basic training and then expert at AIT (Advanced Infantry Training). Shooting is fun and I really like the sport and I think I'm pretty good at it. I think the reason I do so well is that I follow instructions and do what I'm told."
Her hard work and commitment paid off and McClain earned a silver medal during the clinic's rifle competition shoot off.
"I really want to compete at Warrior Games and have done pretty good during the AMU clinic. The instructors are great and very helpful. I'd like to win a gold medal at Warrior Games, but it really isn't all about winning medals. To me it is more about doing well and having fun," she explained.
The young Soldier wants to stay in the Army and is looking at future options that will allow her to finish her education and possibly work in the medical field.
McClain and all the participating Soldiers represent the many wounded warriors who continue to apply their diligence in athletics to other areas of their lives in order to achieve a successful transition post injury.
AMU SHOOTING CLINIC MEDALISTS:
Staff Sgt. Michael Strong, Fort Gordon, Ga., WTU - Gold
Sgt. Erin Bell, Fort Knox, Ky., WTU - Silver
Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Trescott, Fort Jackson, S.C., WTU - Bronze
Staff Sgt. Kory Irish, Fort Drum, N.Y., WTU - Gold
Pfc. Latoya McClain, Fort Bliss, Texas, WTU - Silver
Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Trescott, Fort Jackson, S.C., WTU - Bronze