Photo Information

Matthew Benack, a member of the Marine Corps team, will compete this year in archery, air rifle and pistol events during the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 11. Benack, a current resident of Jacksonville, N.C., is one of only a couple Marines who competed in the Warrior Games all four years it has existed.(Photo by Sgt. Justin M. Boling)

Photo by Sgt. Justin M. Boling

Marine finds healing in competitive shooting

11 May 2013 | David Vergun

 Former Marine Staff Sgt. Matthew Benack is the one to watch at the Wounded Warrior 2013 games. 

He’s taken gold medals in archery and air rifle for the last three years and thinks he has a good shot at gold again this year.

However, he may have a problem winning this year, a problem of his own making. He explains:

“I love to teach others to shoot. The real joy I get is when they learn to outshoot me. 

“I’ve got a guy on my tail this year who I taught and I’ve gotten his confidence level up enough that he realizes he can beat me when he puts his mind to it,” he continued. 

The competition will be close this year, Benack predicted, but whoever wins it will be a Marine since they placed in the top tier during the preliminaries.

At the end of the day, he said, irrespective of service “we always shake hands. It’s all good sportsmanship.”

The Warrior Games is a Paralympic-style competition for wounded, ill and injured service members held here at the Olympic Training Center and the Air Force Academy.

Benack grew up in Arnold, Mo., where he said shooting came natural. He said that shooting “kept me busy and sane following my injuries in 2010 in Iraq, the lowest point in recovery.” He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

All of the wounded warriors here are at different points in their recovery, he said. “Some are at rock bottom and others are climbing out where I’m at ready to get back to as normal a life as possible.”

Having gone through the recovery process, Benack said he’s able to give back to other wounded warriors who are still struggling and trying to cope. He said just talking with them and being their friend is enough. 

“Being with someone who experienced the same heartaches, trials and tribulations you went through means a lot,” he said, adding that doctors and medication alone are not enough.

Although the games only last a week, he said the friends they make here will last a lifetime. And, though they might live hundreds or thousands of miles apart, they keep in contact using social media.

Help from family 

Tara, his wife, and their five children have also been tremendous in helping with the recovery process, he said.

Having family support was vital, he said, noting that some of the wounded warriors are less fortunate and don’t have families “so we become their family.

Tara also suffers from PTSD, he said, following a horrific vehicle-train collision in Texas in which four other wounded warriors were killed while traveling to a wounded warrior event in Midland in a trailer.

The accident, in which neither he nor Tara were injured, brought flashbacks of his own time in combat when he smelled burning flesh and saw the awful carnage, he said.

Besides family support, Benack said his service dog Rocky provides a large measure of love and comfort. Rocky was a gift from a nonprofit paws4vets in 2010. The organization provides assistance dogs at no charge to veterans, service members and their families who have physical, psychological or emotional disabilities.

Another way Benack said he deals with his pain is through volunteer work helping other veterans. He works in the Adapt & Overcome Program which assists veterans of every service who are recovering from PTSD, TBI and similar injuries acquire the skills they need to adjust and return to civilian life.

Returning to civilian life is not easy, Benack said. People don’t understand how someone can be “wounded” without any physical injuries. He hopes society will get educated about the invisible injuries and hopes the games will bring that message out.

One of Benack’s biggest disappointments is that only a few hundred wounded warriors get to do this every year. He hopes competitions like this will spread across America and the rest of the world.

“I fought side by side with Australians, Brits and others who’ve been similarly injured,” he said. “We’ve all chewed the same dirt. We’ve all been through the same heartaches. They need a program like this.”

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