By Rob McIlvaineMarch 13, 2012
FORT MEADE, Md. (Army News Service, March, 2012) -- The final game for Soldiers vying for a spot on the Army sitting volleyball team was played here on the last day of a five-day clinic, held March 9-12.
"Sport is a great part of a Soldier's life," said Brig. Gen. Darryl Williams, commander of the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command.
"Sport helps them feel good about themselves. So the camaraderie, the spirit that you see, the cohesion is a part of what's going to be on display at the Warrior Games," he said.
These clinics at Fort Meade, he said, are one of those building blocks toward that event.
"This is like a closing ceremony to give these guys a chance to compete and have some fun," said Lt. Col. Keith W. Williams, chief of the Adaptive Reconditioning Program at Warrior Transition Command.
During the clinics at both Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Fort Meade, events have included swimming, track and field, sitting volleyball and cycling. Then some wounded warriors will fly out to the shooting camp in El Paso, Texas.
"After all our camps, we'll break all the Soldiers down to 50 on the Army team," Williams said.
Jumping into the game were WTU Soldiers who volunteered from Fort Meade to play against those trying out for the Warrior Games.
"The support network -- the non-medical attendants and the garrison staff here -- we've had great support here from Fort Meade," Brig. Gen. Williams said.
Spc. Jonathan Schmidt was one of those local players.
Originally with the 744th MP Battalion, Schmidt deployed with the 307th MP Company to Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, where he incurred some wear and tear associated with minor combat injuries.
Part of the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Meade, this was the first activity he had a chance to do.
"They asked if anyone wanted to play volleyball and I said, 'OK.' We had a couple of people volunteer and we have a good team now," Schmidt said. "I'm mainly involved because when you first get here you're running around getting processed. Once you do all that, there's nothing to do besides your appointments -- you go to your therapies and you might work out in your PT, but besides that you have a really empty day."
Getting involved with volleyball, he said, encouraged him to get out and meet people.
The Warrior Game competitors were very helpful, he said, and the previous players gave them all the rules and told them how to play.
"But sitting volleyball is a lot harder than I expected," Schmidt said.
Players can hit the ball with any part of their body, he said, but must keep their butt on the floor. It's on a smaller court, and there's only six players instead of nine. But the general rules of volleyball apply, Schmidt said.
"We started working out with the team, getting our communication better. Our second game today was a lot better than our first, and our third game, hopefully, we'll do a lot better."
The teamwork was impressive, Schmidt said, and he enjoyed helping out the athletes heading to Colorado.
"It's amazing how you come here and you think it's going to be a lot more competitive. But in our first game we did not do well, at all. We got six or seven points and the other team got 25 points'" Schmidt said.
To help out, he said, one of the Warrior Game players came over.
"She took us aside and gave us some pointers and it really helped us in our second game," Schmidt said. That was surprising to have that level of general teamwork between all the teams," he added.
Retired Sgt. Christopher Ford, who suffered an orthopedic injury to his knees and post-traumatic stress disorder, plans to compete in sitting volleyball at the Warrior Games, along with the 100- and 200-meter in track, the shot and discus.
"I like sitting volleyball because I can't jump, so this gives me the opportunity to do a sport that's team oriented," Ford said.
Growing up, he said, he was always an athlete.
"When I got injured, I first went back to Fort Hood (Texas) and was just hanging around. And one of my battle buddies, retired Sgt. Robbie Gaupp, who's in there playing volleyball right now, told me about the Warrior Games," Ford said. "He said, 'man, just because you got injured doesn't mean it's over.' So he got me into it and we went last year and competed and I had a blast. It was fun."
Ford said he's been playing since he was 4 years old.
"Pretty much any sport, I'd be doing it -- football, baseball -- and swimming, I'll train for and try to compete in it next year," he said.
"Volleyball is something I have looked forward to for the last two or three years," Ford said.
Although 270 Army applicants began on the road to the U.S. Olympic Committee-sponsored 2012 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. from April 30 to May 5, only 50 Soldiers will make the cut on March 20, and the will be notified later in the month by the USOC.
More than 200 wounded, ill, and injured servicemen and women from all branches, along with veterans, are expected to compete in seven sports: archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track & field and wheelchair basketball.
"Because only 50 Soldiers are playing seven sports, they really need to know how to do more than one sport," Williams said.
In addition, each sport is based on different categories, he said.
"They compete based on their injury. You may have an upper disability, meaning some ailment with the arm -- below the elbow amputee, above the elbow amputee. So you will not have a below the elbow amputee competing against someone who has both his upper limbs," Williams said.
But in the open category, he said, you have guys running against all disabilities.
Brig. Gen. Williams said it's very contagious being around Soldiers who compete at the Olympic level.
"While there will only be 50 Soldiers who will represent the Army in Colorado Springs, we like to say we have 10,000 wounded, ill or injured Soldiers that are in the Warrior Transition Command," he said.
The competition hosted by the USOC, is also supported by the Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, USO, Fisher House Foundation and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.