NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Airmen from across the nation journeyed here for their chance at becoming members of the 2017 Warrior Games team during the AF Trials Feb. 24 – March 3.
The Air Force Wounded Warrior Program is a congressionally mandated, federally funded program that provides personalized care, services and advocacy to seriously wounded, ill or injured Total Force recovering service members, their caregivers and families. AFW2 focuses on specific personal and family needs, and includes programs that cover various situations throughout the recovery process and beyond.
Representing Air Education and Training Command, and vying for a spot on the AF team is Tech. Sgt. Ben Seekell, instructor supervisor for the security forces officer course at Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis, Texas.
During a 2011 deployment to Afghanistan, Seekell, who was serving as a military working dog handler at the time, from Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, was involved in an improvised explosive device attack, which forever altered his life.
“Amidst the clouds of dust and the horrible smells, all I could think about was the location of my rifle and my dog,” Seekell said. “While I was disoriented, I never lost consciousness. I attribute my survival to the quick action of my amazing team as my leg was pretty much amputated out in the field. Self-aid buddy care definitely saved my life that day.
“After the incident, I spent roughly five months at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland,” he said. “While there, I didn’t know if I would ever walk again. I had a lot of people encouraging me during my recovery, but I had to make the choice that no matter what, I was going to make it for myself. I knew two things for certain — I wanted to walk again, and I wanted to find a way to wear the uniform again.”
Surrounded by his support system, Seekell knew his personal road to recovery wasn’t going to be without struggle, but he made the choice early on to not let his injury define him.
“When I found myself at that crossroads, I knew I could either accept my condition or fall victim to it,” he said. “You have two choices in life: to be defined by your adversity or be defined by how you overcome it.”
Seekell not only overcame his adversity, but in just five short months following the explosion that took his leg, completed the medical board process to return to active duty and scored a 94.5 percent on the Air Force physical fitness test. Realizing his drive and competitive nature was one-of-a-kind, a former commander introduced the Rhode Island native to the AFW2 program.
“Competition was what initially peaked my interest and got me here,” Seekell said. “For a short time, I was status quo and complacent at work and during my recovery. I realized I had the chance to improve so I tried each day to get stronger. What is great about this program is that friendly competition drives us all to push harder and in turn, to heal. This is the one place where all of us can come together and share that common ground.”
For Seekell, the competition goes hand-in-hand with a once-in-a-lifetime camaraderie.
“These trials and the games bring together all these warriors who have served their country and are now together in one spot,” he said. “When we are in our respective units, in a sense we are alone standing out amidst our teammates. But, here, when you look to your left and right, the warriors standing next to you look back with a sense of understanding to what you are going through. The bonds we share are unlike anything I’ve experienced, and that is why I compete – for the people by my side and for those who have helped get me here.”
Despite the challenges he has faced, Seekell remains optimistic that through hard work and a hardiness of spirit, there is nothing he can’t handle.
“Regardless of whether you are a wounded warrior, injured or completely healthy, it’s knowing you can always do a little more,” he said. “Beyond the individuals here, this lesson of resilience is for every Airman and every member of the Defense Department. We can always push beyond our boundaries. People have bad days, which is unavoidable, but just remember there is always someone out there who is having a worse one.
“These events are one of a kind and they are an excellent display of the strength of the human spirit,” he said. “Let this serve as a reminder that regardless of what is going on in our day-to-day, we have the choice to be resilient. And for me, that is the only choice.”