By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 02, 2012) -- The Soldiers competing this week in the Warrior Games at Colorado Springs, Colo., are members of one of the 29 Warrior Transition Units spread across the Army.
They are wounded, ill and injured Soldier-athletes with prosthetics, amputations, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress, and "through sport, daily activity and getting a sweat, they get better," said Brig. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, assistant surgeon general and commander, Warrior Transition Command.
"That's the resiliency of our Army," he said.
Williams spoke to reporters, May 1, via telephone, from the Warrior Games in Colorado. He said the Soldiers who compete in the games signed up for military service to be something bigger and better than themselves.
America, he said, doesn't know "these Soldiers that surround me. They get after it every single day. It just shows the strength (of) Soldiers who have given some, and some have given all. They are the best of our country."
While not all Soldiers that have been injured in combat will end up back in uniform, Williams said that since 2007, the Army's Warrior Transition program has transitioned 22,000 back to the Army. The equivalent of about two divisions of Soldiers, Williams said, has since returned to uniform after overcoming traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.
While not all Soldiers in the Army's Warrior Transition Units come to the games, Williams said, there is a "vibrant, adaptive sports program" at all of the Army's WTUs.
Two Soldiers who did come to the games this year are Lt. Col. Daniel Dudek and Spc. Jasmine Perry.
Perry is a recovering Soldier in the WTU at Fort Campbell, Ky. She was injured during a training accident in May 2005 at Fort Carson, Colo. Her left leg was amputated below the knee as a result of her injury. She said she was always active in sports before her injury, but afterward, it was the very language surrounding her injury that initially kept her from continuing to compete.
"The word 'adaptive,' to me, makes me feel different, and I didn't want to feel different than my other friends," she said. "Adaptive sports" is a term used to describe traditional athletics that have been modified to compensate for people with disabilities.
In 2010, Perry said, she went to the Center for the Intrepid, now at San Antonio Army Medical Center.
"I was seeing injuries way worse than I was experiencing," she said. "They strapped me into a wheelchair, got me playing wheelchair basketball to boost my ego a little bit after scoring a few points. And since then I've been involved in adaptive sports, and that's what brought me here today for the Warrior Games for the second year."
In 2011, Perry won gold in the seated shot put competition. This year, she's competing in the 50-meter freestyle and 50-meter backstroke competition, as well as the 100-meter sprint and standing shot put competition.
Competition at the Warrior Games, Perry said, may only be slightly different than competition at any other athletic competition.
"I think it's a lot more aggressive," she said. "They have something to go out there and prove as much as you do. We all get along pretty good. The morale is good. But when it's time to compete, it's time to compete -- you don't have friends."
Perry serves as the Defense Travel System specialist for her Warrior Transition Unit.
LT. COL. DUDEK
Dudek was injured July 9, 2007, when an explosively-formed penetrator came through the back of his Stryker in Iraq. Another Soldier was killed during the attack, Dudek said, and he was severely injured.
"After a quick firefight and a helicopter ride, within an hour I had a laminectomy, surgery on my spine to release the pressure," he said. "It gave me the ability to get my quads and hamstrings back. And so I had a long road ahead of me for recover."
Dudek's injury has left him unable to walk without assistance, as he is paralyzed below both knees. "Nothing below the knee works; I have braces that let me get around. I think I get around okay. I use a wheelchair most of the time. But I am able to get around with forearm crutches, if I need to intimidate people."
Dudek said the chronic pain from his injury made it easy for him to gain weight, until a "really pushy person" got him playing golf again.
"I started realizing a lot of the obstacles in front of me were just illusions I'd put in front of myself and I started swimming again and I started going skiing," he said. "I started realizing a lot of things I used to do I could still do, I can do with an adapted piece of equipment. America's behind me 100 percent in terms of equipment and facilities and expertise and so the community was there in a way that I had never seen before."
Since his injury, Dudek has participated in the Army Ten miler, a Sprint Triathlon and the Seattle-to-Portland cycling event. He also said he's been a life-long swimmer, and he'll capitalize on his love of the pool during the Warrior Games.
"I'll take what I've learned the last two months and apply it and do my best to kick some butt in swimming," he said. "That's why I'm here and what I'm going to do for my Army."
Dudek served as commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord before he joined the Warrior Transition Command headquarters staff. There he serves as the Plans, Policy, and Procedures Branch Chief.