This year’s Wounded Warrior Games will come to a close this evening. In this blog, Navy Chaplain Bill Middleton, director for CREDO NDW, shares his experiences at this year’s games.
“We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3 NIV)
We gathered in the Summit Room at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Colorado Springs for the first official function for the 2013 Navy/ Coast Guard Warrior Games team. Some of the team members had been there before, others were competing for the first time. Around the room we went; introductions about who we were, where we were from, and, for staff and coaches, why we were there. The chaplains were there to provide worship services, confidential counseling and support, and Chaplain Religious Enrichment Development Operation workshops.
The athletes added the sometimes raw, sometimes humorous declaration about what happened to them to bring them to these Warrior Games. Improvised explosive devices, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries from a various sources (brain tumors, cancers and motor vehicle accidents) had all impacted the individuals in this room. One retired Navy enlisted Sailor shared, “I tried to stop a bullet with my face; that didn’t work out so well. It went through my Kevlar and came out right here behind my ear.” What this Navy corpsman did not say was that he was shot while providing care to two wounded Marines during a firefight. He also did not mention he was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.
Everyone in the room that night had sacrificed so much in service to our country. My fellow chaplains and I, and religious program specialists were honored to bear witness to their stories, and to see how suffering led them to perseverance, and that perseverance forged a new character that gave them a bolder sense of hope.
Chaplains are in the business of hope. We search for ways to bring hope to all people, especially those whose lives have shifted quickly from a combat or accidental injury. As representatives of God, we declare that God does not hide in the midst of trouble, rather God supports and guides us through every moment, be it full of joy or sorrow.
One night early in the training week before the games, I was talking to an athlete about his experience after his accident. He shared that “when I come to a training camp or the Warrior Games, it is the only time I feel normal, you know, to be around people like me.” The conversation drifted toward him wanting to find a church home where he lives. I was able to help him discern what he was looking for in a faith community and encouraged him that the right church was out there, and his spirit would know when he found it.
Another morning, I was at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s football stadium watching the cycling team practice. The Navy’s visually impaired cyclist was climbing on the tandem bike, and I commented that it took a lot of faith to ride on the second seat of a bike, to trust your friend from childhood to steer and control the bike. Our athlete said, “When you are blind, faith is all you have.”
These athletes have much to teach us from their experiences. Their suffering has created a depth of human thought and compassion that many people will never realize. They are open and honest about where they are at in their journey of recovery; it builds up their character. The excitement at a wheelchair basketball game can inspire these athletes to move past their injuries to embrace the fullness of life. It can give them the hope to remove barriers which can appear. Chaplains can be there to encourage them along the way.
More than 1,000 individuals from the Navy and the Coast Guard are enrolled Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor program. The 35 athletes at the Warrior Games serve as a visual reminder of what is possible with support and encouragement from the Navy combined with the character and hope of the individual.
To illustrate this positive effect, I will share an image from an Army versus Navy sitting volleyball game.
The gym was quite crowded, so I was standing near the entrance. First, I saw a little girl who was wearing large foam wings on her arms like she could fly. She was under five years old and walking with her mom. However, she had a little “catch” in her walk. It was something you begin to notice after two weeks at these Warrior Games. She had a thick rubber boot or “wellie” taped to her right leg that ended just above her ankle. Then I saw it – a quick flash of metallic blue, a prosthetic leg on a child too young to go to school.
I realized her mom had brought her there to see big strong military men and women who were just like her – images of courage despite missing a limb, role models to help her make the most of the life she has been given.
Chaplains are available to support those athletes in the Safe Harbor program who serve as ambassadors to a world where one’s injury neither controls one’s destiny nor limits one’s hope for the future.
Share an experience that inspired or motivated you by commenting below.