By J.D. LeipoldNovember 23, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 23, 2011) -- Hosted by the Warrior Transition Command and in recognition of Warrior Care Month, wounded, ill and injured Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors came together to compete in a sitting volleyball tournament at the Pentagon Athletic Center, Nov. 21.
The competition pitted against each other teams from the Army and Marine Corps as well as a joint service and Pentagon team made up of Navy reservists. Before the competition kicked off for the trophy, the wounded warriors practiced passing and spiking the red, white and blue volleyballs over 42-inch high nets as they kept one "butt cheek" on the court at all times.
As they practiced, nine-year Army veteran and Paralympic silver medalist and trainer, Kari L. Miller shed her prosthetic legs to coach the players at the floor level. Miller was on Christmas leave from Bosnia in 1999 when she became the victim of a drunk driver who cost her the loss of one leg above the knee and the other just below the knee.
Miller is an obvious physical contrast to most of the players who have the use of both legs and arms but are suffering from unseen wounds like traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Of herself, Miller said a lot of the identity of service men and women is based on rank, but that things can change nearly overnight. But Miller said she never let the trauma of her wounds beat her.
"I was Sergeant Miller, but after the accident, it's like who am I now?" she said. "Getting into Paralympic sport is something that helped me to see other people through difficult times and guide me -- it also let me feel I was accomplishing things for myself. Sport has really helped a lot."
Brig. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, who heads up the Warrior Transition Command, said the sitting volleyball competition was part of an adaptive reconditioning sports program that was extremely important to the healing process of wounded, ill and injured warriors. It also served as a preview to the third annual Warrior Games that will be held in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2012.
"I think a lot of people come here today expect to see amputees rolling around here, but we have Soldiers here who have severe post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury, so this is part of the cognitive reframing and helps them to heal," he said.
Williams said all 29 Warrior Transition Units and the nine Community-based WTUs that fall under the WTC must have adaptive sports as part of a Soldier's reconditioning, irrespective of whether that individual intends to remain in the Army or move into civilian life. WTC presently treats around 10,000 active, Guard and Reserve wounded warriors.
Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker dropped by to check out the practice sessions before the competition kicked off, saying that while he's Army, he was rooting for all the players.
"This group of military people are very much at the leading edge of overcoming adversity and fostering their abilities, some of which they didn't know they had before they become wounded or injured," he said.
"Whenever, these guys gather to have these kinds of competitions to test themselves and prove their mettle, I think it helps to move the whole community away from one that gets too steeped in the adversity that life throws us and focuses on the positive and more aspirational."
The double-elimination tournament ended with the Pentagon team made up of Navy Reservists taking the trophy, while Army came in second. In the end, said Williams, the tournament was about teamwork, cohesion and esprit de corps.