TORONTO — With the event coming to a close, thousands around the world turned their attention toward the 2017 Invictus Games, witnessing feats of incredible talent and hearing truly inspiring stories from world-class athletes.
The Invictus Games, established by Prince Harry of Wales in 2014, brought together wounded and injured military members and veterans from 17 nations to compete across 12 adaptive sporting events. More than 550 wounded, ill or injured athletes journeyed to Toronto for the competition, and military leaders did not trail far behind to demonstrate their continued support of these heroes.
“Being invited to the Invictus Games is a tremendous honor,” said Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel Services. “Recognizing these incredible Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers representing the United States is truly humbling. We are letting them know how impactful what they are doing is for our nation, and that we stand firmly behind them, support them and believe in them.
“These games are incredibly fun to watch and you can feel how much energy is packed into these venues; but for those of us representing leadership within the Defense Department, we are also here to learn how to continue moving with adaptive sports programs and continuously improve our support for wounded warriors.”
Officials with the DoD announced in July that the Air Force would host the 2018 DoD Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, June 2018. Turning focus from the games to overarching program initiatives, Grosso spoke about the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, which is functionally aligned under the Air Force Warrior and Survivor Care Division and operationally managed by the Air Force Personnel Center.
“The testimonials we continue to hear from athletes who participate with the program and who have competed in previous years, or are competing now for the first time, shows us that the work we are doing has value and impact,” Grosso said. “Hearing people say how this program saved their life – the connection between adaptive sports and recovery has become increasingly evident. As military leaders, we aspire to have those who have served, and are still serving, to maintain that ability to thrive – especially those who have suffered from catastrophic injuries. Simply put, it is incredibly clear to me how instrumental these programs are in the recovery process for our nation’s warriors and their families.”
During her time here, Grosso had lunch with members of Team U.S. where attendees were ready to offer suggestions for next year’s competitions. “Hearing their ideas for the evolution of the program was outstanding,” she said. “They want to see more of the adaptive sports featured here, at the 2018 Warrior Games – things like powerlifting, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis. They also suggested that every base have adaptive sports teams, which they believe would normalize the concept of adaptive sports. As a leader, it is difficult not to see the value in concepts like that; things that would foster trust, teamwork and cohesion. The question then becomes how to make ideas like that a standard practice across an entire service branch.”
Grosso acknowledged that type of growth can take time, but echoed sentiments shared by program participants.
“Our goal is to consistently evolve and outperform ourselves,” Grosso said.
“Leaders managing these programs need to be as adaptive as these athletes are, and I can certainly speak for Air Force leadership when I say how committed we remain to taking care of every Airman.”
Grosso was proud to watch Team U.S. dominate throughout the portions of competition she witnessed.
“There is no other way to describe what I have seen here beyond inspiring,” she said. “This really does put life into perspective. You see these athletes persevering despite what they had to overcome, and it reminds us how fortunate we are to have amazing men and women of this caliber serving with us. I also want to add that it is no easy task assisting people through a crisis, so to my team down at AFPC, I say thank you for the incredible work you do in helping our wounded, ill and injured Airmen. It is reassuring to know that our members have the most dedicated staff working with them as they navigate through their road to recovery.”