Panetta, Army Chief Recognize Paralympic Warriors’ Achievements
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 25, 2012 Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta today led a Pentagon celebration for wounded warriors who competed in Paralympic sports during the 2012 Warrior Games.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta congratulates Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ronald Sullivan at the 2012 Warrior Games recognition ceremony held in the Pentagon courtyard, June 25, 2012. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“It is, for me, a real pleasure to have the opportunity to be with you today, and to especially be with our warrior athletes and their families,” Panetta said. “It’s an honor for me to be able to celebrate the remarkable achievements that all of you have done, [and] your resilience.
“I cannot tell you how much you inspire us with your courage, with your determination, with athletic prowess, [and] with your physical strength,” he added. “It’s an incredible inspiration.”
Panetta was joined by Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, and Charlie Huebner, chief of Paralympics for the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“It’s an important day for all of us,” Odierno said. “We recognize incredibly inspirational and motivated young men and women.”
The Army chief noted that 50 world-class athletes representing the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as U.S. Special Operations Command and the Coast Guard, were on hand for the ceremony to represent the 220 participants in the Warrior Games, held in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 30 to May 5. The Marines, Odierno said, won the coveted Chairman’s Cup with a total of 89 medals.
“Athletics has always been key to our military culture,” Odierno said. “In 1928, Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur was given a leave of absence authorized by the 12th Army chief of staff, Gen. Charles Summerall, to serve as the president of the American Olympic Committee – predecessor of the U.S. Olympic Committee.”
MacArthur went on to lead the U.S. Olympic team to winning the most medals at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, Odierno said. Women were allowed to compete officially for the first time in those games, he noted.
Panetta praised the perseverance of all the wounded warriors for their ability to overcome immense odds.
“I believe the strength, the integrity, the character of many American service members who have persevered in the face of huge challenges,” he said. “Their stories represent the fighting spirit of the brave men and women who serve on the front lines around the world.”
Panetta referred to Navy Lt. Brad Snyder, who was present at the celebration, as an example. Snyder was blinded while serving as an explosive ordnance disposal technician, the secretary said, but he refused to give up hope.
“He was determined not to let the loss of his sight stop him,” Panetta said, noting that Snyder has competed at a high level in track and swimming, earning three gold medals in track and four in swimming during the games. Additionally, the secretary said, Snyder won all five of his swimming events during the U.S. Paralympic swimming trials and set a world-best time for vision-impaired athletes in the 100- and 200-meter freestyle events.
“When Brad steps up to the blocks in London on Sept. 7 to compete in the Paralympic games, it will be one year to the day since his injury,” Panetta said. “Brad, we’re all in awe of your determination and personal spirit, and all of us are going to be cheering your success in London.”
The secretary noted that he often meets hospitalized warriors just days after they’ve been wounded in battle. “In that acute phase of recovery,” he said, “I know that it’s hard for some to imagine ever competing for an athletic event.”
Panetta lauded the “sheer guts” these warrior athletes displayed in overcoming their mental and physical obstacles and called it “a miracle of emotional, physical and mental strength.”
The defense secretary said the nation owes it to all of its wounded warriors to never forget their service and sacrifice, and that the Defense Department is committed to helping them to return to service or transition to civilian life.
“The American people and communities throughout our nation must be partners in this effort, and they are,” Panetta said. “In the past decade of war, we’ve learned a lot about treating our wounded warriors, including the value of sports, competition, of recreation and strengthening minds and strengthening bodies. We owe these brave young people no less than the very best. As a nation, we are truly blessed by the men and women in uniform who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect this country.”