From their first day on the yellow footprints at recruit training or day one at Officer Candidates School, Marines have developed into athletic warriors. A program that was established in February 2008 has succeeded in bringing out that same warrior instinct for wounded, ill and injured Marines nationwide. The Wounded Warrior Regiment’s Warrior Athlete Reconditioning program, also known as the WAR program, provides opportunities for Marines to engage in individual or team sports settings that improve their overall mental and physical fitness.
Lieutenant Col. Nicholas E. Davis, Wounded Warrior Battalion East commanding officer, says that the WAR program serves as a tool to assist wounded, ill and injured Marines in reaching their highest potential to support their 'new normal' in life. “In the end [wounded, ill and injured Marines] will be better prepared for life's journey if they take each day at a time and include family in the recovery process. This is a good way to get their mind, body and spirit through an arduous process that will have its challenges,” said Lt. Col. Davis.
“The program initially began to augment wounded, ill and injured Marines, traditional [recovery] and combine a new method of physical training to their regimen,” said Ginger Gold, program manager for the WAR program at Wounded Warrior Battalion East aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejuene, N.C.
“Most of the Marines who came into this program were only focused on their injury, but the WAR program takes the injury into consideration and focuses on the entire body,” continued Gold. This dynamic method of training is fashioned to allow wounded, ill and injured Marines an opportunity to return to active duty or transition out of the Corps while remaining physically and athletically motivated.
In the beginning, the program was offered as an elective activity that focused on aquatics, equestrian activities, and strengthening and conditioning. Today, the program has shown tremendous growth and now includes cycling, golf, kayaking, wheelchair basketball, fishing, shooting/hunting, archery, scuba diving, dog training and other activities.
“The benefits of the program are apparent,” said Gold. For example, “One Marine could not exercise more than a few minutes without experiencing severe [fatigue]. Today, that Marine is continuously exercising for thirty minutes without showing any signs of [fatigue].”
Wounded, ill and injured Marines are further introduced to various sports and have the opportunity to build their confidence at sporting events, camps and outings. May 2-15, the Wounded Warrior Regiment WAR program staff will host a training camp for the 49-member All-Marine team as they prepare to compete in the second annual Warrior Games.
Gold’s staff has trained several of the Marine athletes that will compete in the Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. May 16-21, 2011. This year, the Wounded Warrior Battalion East will send 9 Marines and the Wounded Warrior Battalion West will send 15 Marines to compete on the All-Marine team. The Wounded Warrior Regiment WAR program staff will oversee these athletes and others during the training and Games- pulling together the benefits of the Regiment-wide program. They will go head to head with service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. The Games will include the following events; wheelchair basketball, volleyball, archery, track and field, cycling, swimming and shooting.
According to U.S. Paralympics, the Warrior Games are designed to elevate abilities through athletic competition for wounded, ill and injured service members by providing a focal event to empower the incorporation of athletics into Military Service Wounded Warrior Programs. The Warrior Games will be an annual event to celebrate the achievement and abilities of wounded, ill and injured service members, while building camaraderie and raising awareness for adaptive sports.
At the inaugural Warrior Games the All-Marine team took home the Chairman’s Cup and the Ultimate Champion award. “The athletes show a great deal of motivation especially when they get over that initial hump in their recovery. It is very exciting to see them be so successful,” said Gold.
According to Lt. Col. Davis, the WAR program's most visible event is the Warrior Games. However, that is only one aspect of program that supports the Marines of the battalions. The battalions will increase the resources and support offered to Marines with a new facility. A Warrior Hope and Care Center is one of the latest endeavors that will serve as one-stop-shop for wounded, ill and injured Marines recovery, rehabilitative and reintegration process. The battalion’s medical case manager, Recovery Care Coordinator, call center, family support and WAR program staff will all operate from the new facility. For the WAR program, the facility will house a weight room, functional workout area, climbing wall, lap pool, therapy pool, exercise assessment/human performance center and family lounge.
“I see the warrior in every athlete and it is truly inspiring and a privilege to be a part of such a great program,” said Ginger. To the Marines who are newly injured, lying in a hospital bed, uncertain of their future, “know that there is hope. Your life is not over. There are resources out there to help you through your recovery process and the WAR program is just one of those choices.”
Established in 2007, the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment was created to provide and facilitate non-medical care to combat and non-combat wounded, ill, and injured Marines, and sailors attached to or in direct support of Marine units and their family members in order to assist them as they return to duty or transition to civilian life. The Regimental Headquarters element, located in Quantico, Va., commands the operations of two Wounded Warrior Battalions located at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., and multiple detachments in locations around the globe.
For more information about the Wounded Warrior Regiment or the 2011 Warrior Games, go to: www.woundedwarriorregiment.org or call the Sgt. Merlin German Wounded Warrior Call Center 24/7 at (877) 487-6299.
Marines and Marine veterans who are interested in participating in Warrior Athlete Reconditioning program training camps or next year’s Warrior Games should contact the WAR program staff at WWSports@usmc.mil.