COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Army News Service, May 17, 2011) -- The 2011 Warrior Games kicked off Monday evening at the U.S. Olympic Training Center when Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta lit the torch to start the games.
Giunta, who has served in the U.S. Army for almost eight years and is stationed at Fort Collins, Colo., became the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor -- the nation's highest military decoration for valor, since the Vietnam War.
Throngs of people gathered along the walkways of the training center and watched the procession of more than 200 wounded, injured, ill and special operations forces athletes from across the services compete. After the National Anthem, a pair of F-18s flew over the crowd in salute.
Athletes will compete in seven sports over the course of the week: archery, wheelchair basketball, cycling, shooting, swimming, track and field, and sitting volleyball.
"I think it's impressive," Giunta said of the athletes' participation. "Just to be able to stand amongst these people and to be able to wear the jacket with the 'Warrior Games' on it ... the heart on them is absolutely incredible, on every single one of them, regardless of the disability or the action that caused it -- the perseverance. They keep on coming back."
The torch relay began with an Army triple amputee, who passed the torch to the oldest servicemember, who handed it on until the youngest passed it to a Special Forces athlete. Giunta received the torch last and lit the cauldron.
Pfc. Joshua Bullis, the Army's torchbearer, was very honored to have been chosen for the relay.
"It made me proud; it made me very humble," he said.
Bullis competes in the standing and prone rifle shooting competitions, and he hopes to win the gold in the finals on Thursday.
"Don't be discouraged by (your injury)," Bullis told his fellow Soldiers. "I'm a triple amputee and I'm still out here doing it, and hopefully we just show other wounded guys that might be too scared to come out or something like that, that it's a great event. You get all the support you need and you have fun."
"Thank you," Giunta said to the athletes. He said the games show Americans what they are capable of doing. "Thank you for showing us that, because we needed to see that. That motivates the heck out of me."
A joint effort between the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Department of Defense, the Warrior Games are sponsored by Deloitte, an international accounting and consulting firm.
For a complete schedule of the competitionwhich continues through May 21, visit www.usparalympics.org.