WEST POINT, N.Y.–After a week of intense international competition, the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games drew to a close at West Point, N.Y., June 21, 2016, with a medal ceremony and concert, followed by fireworks.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley reminded the audience that the competitors, representing all services, the U.S. Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom armed forces, were the best of the best.
“This is a tough competition,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize what this competition means. First of all, you had to walk the hallowed grounds of the battlefield or you had to get injured or sick in the service of your nation. That alone makes you the best of the best.”
Milley noted that the Warrior Games competitors had earned their places at the games by competing against a field of 2,000 to 3,000 other athletes at regional and service-level trials in track and field, swimming, shooting, archery, sitting volleyball, cycling and wheelchair basketball.
“They had to meet Paralympic standards. The coaches, the staff, the referees were all professionals and former Paralympians. The standards were high. This is a tough competition,” the general said. “There’s not an athlete on this field who got there by themselves. They got there because of their families, their caregivers, their medical professionals, their coaches, their friends and countless others. You’re a tremendously inspiring group of people. Thank you so much for your spirit of competition and your resiliency.”
From June 15-21, wounded, ill and injured athletes competed in the various sports, pushing through injuries and reconnecting with friends. For some, this was their last Warrior Games and their next competition will be the Invictus Games. For others, the road to the Paralympics is just beginning.
The week culminated in a gold medal matchup in volleyball between Air Force and SOCOM, with both teams keeping the score tight in both games. The Air Force team earned gold by topping SOCOM 25-23 and 25-22. The final game of the week was wheelchair basketball, with Army dominating the Marine Corps team 62-23 for the gold.
Heart of the team
Though the athletes felt a sense of accomplishment with the medals, most of them said their biggest takeaway from the week was the sense of camaraderie and friendship. This year, the Warrior Games added Heart of the Team awards. These were awarded to one member on each team who best exemplified the camaraderie of the sport. The teams chose who received the awards and surprised each recipient.
The recipients were medically retired Army Sgt. Ryan Major, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dakota Boyer, medically retired Navy Airman Austin Chance Field, medically retired Air Force Capt. Chris Cochrane, SOCOM Navy Lt. Ramesh Haytasingh, and royal marine Justin Montague.
Boyer said he was surprised to receive the award.
“It was the best feeling I’ve felt in a long time,” he said. “I was cheering my teammates on to win and to do good things. I was never not going to cheer for them. This event was one of the greatest feelings in the world. You have a full team behind you and support. You’re never going to find the love like this anywhere else and people who know what you’re going through.”
Cochrane and his wife, Ashley, were surprised as well.
“I was stunned,” he said. “They see something inspiring in me and my wife and my life after the tragic circumstances. They just know we want to help and medals or not, it’s all the friendships and the strength we’ve found together. We just try to press on and get more people involved and more focused on the visible and the invisible wounds.”
Ashley said she was proud of him overcoming adversity. “Starting adaptive sports was a game changer for his recovery, and seeing what he did this week is just mind blowing,” she said. “My heart is just bursting.”
Milley declared the games closed and handed the Warrior Games torch off to Navy Vice Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander of Navy Installations Command, to symbolize the start of the run-up for the next games, which the Navy will host in Chicago next June.
A C-17 Globemaster III from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, also conducted a flyover during the ceremony, while actor Gary Sinise performed a concert with his Lt. Dan Band for the athletes and their families before a fireworks display.