By Sgt. Valerie Lopez, 1st Armored DivisionJanuary 20, 2012
FORT BLISS, Texas (Jan. 20, 2012) -- Twenty five wounded Soldiers came to El Paso, Texas, and Fort Bliss from different installations to participate in the Warrior Games Shooting Training Camp, Jan. 11-14.
"This is our very first of three shooting clinics for selecting the 2012 (Warrior Games) shooting team," said Master Sgt. Howard Day, Army Shooting Coach for Warrior Transition Command and student at United States Sergeants Major Academy. "We partnered with the University of Texas El Paso and Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Bliss, and reps from the Army Marksmanship Unit in order to make this clinic happen."
The Warrior Games was created in 2010 as an introduction to Paralympic sports for injured service members and veterans of all services -- Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard. During this year's games, wounded service members and veterans will compete in seven sports: archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball.
This year the Army's shooting training camp was held at University of Texas El Paso's ROTC building. The participating warriors lodged in the Fort Bliss WTB Barracks.
"This year's mission is to bring home the gold, from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado," said Day.
During the clinic, there were three stations set up -- mental, physical and range practice.
In the mental station, Lindsay Holtz, Performance Enhancement Specialist assisted warriors to create imagery scripts to do mental practice when they don't have a weapon.
"It's like a movie script that you play in your head to help you keep your patterns, muscles and mind prepared for when you go back out there," said Holtz.
The physical station had UTEP woman's shooting coach George Brenzovich, and team member Andrea Vautrin, exchange ideas with the warriors on different ways to deal with anxieties and the pressures of competing. They also demonstrated alternate positions for shooting pertaining to each person's disabilities or weaknesses.
The third station was an indoor air shooting range at the ROTC building where the warriors practiced shooting and received instructions from coach Day, assistant coaches and USASMA students Master Sgt. Fernando Verones, Master Sgt. Roger Lewis, and Sgt. Maj. Martin Barreras with the Army Marksmanship Unit.
Despite their circumstances these warriors all come together to compete, said Day.
One warrior, Spc. James Darlington, WTB Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, was deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division when he was only 19 years old, when his group was hit with two rocket-propelled grenades in July 2010 and his arm was struck.
With nerve damage and muscle loss in his right arm, Darlington, now 21 years old, has his mom with him as his non-medical attendant.
"He did his job well, said Gery Darlington, "because everyone came home from that deployment. He's here alive, and we can deal with whatever happened with his arm."
"The WTB has great programs to help Soldiers transition back to their units, and other activities to keep us from getting down," said Darlington. "The shooting clinic helped us get better at shooting. I'm looking forward to getting in the team."
The Soldiers' injuries here run the full scope, said Day, from traumatic brain injury, or TBI, to post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, to amputations. Many have multiple injuries and other medical conditions that challenge them.
Staff Sgt. Tracy J. Smith, Alpha Company, WTB Georgia, Army National Guard with 48th Brigade, was deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan, survived mortar rounds, explosions and firefights. Now battling with TBI and PTSD, three pins in her knee and 50 percent hearing loss, Smith continues to stay active in everyday life.
"I was initially introduced to adaptive sports, and wanted to stay active and physically fit so I did archery, seated shot put, track and field events, power lifting, and now marksmanship," said Smith.
Smith said because of the TBI and the PTSD she was at first nervous to handle a weapon, but after watching someone use the air rifle it was not as "off-putting". It was almost therapeutic.
"It's almost a very easy reintroduction into the basics of Soldiering, but also very different from what we are taught in marksmanship," said Smith. "I am doing this for those who can't, for my battle buddy who is partly paralyzed and unable, because he would have if our situations were reversed."
"Eighty three warriors applied, 75 were notified eligible for these clinics," said Day. "From these clinics the best [shooters] will be put together to form our Army team."
As a wounded warrior himself, Day said it is vital for Soldiers to recognize that the injuries are not the end of their career and definitely not the end of possibilities in life.
"This is nothing but a speed bump, a simple turn in the road," said Day. "There is a big bright futures and lots of opportunities."
To learn more about the Warrior Games, visit http://usparalympics.org/.