Former Marine Finds Healing in Competitive Shooting
By David Vergun
Army News Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May. 11, 2013 Former Marine Staff Sgt. Matthew Benack is the one to watch at the 2013 Warrior Games that start here today and finish May 16.
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 held May 11-16 in Colorado Springs, Colo. Benack has competed in the Warrior Games all four years it has existed. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Justin M. Boling
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Benack has taken gold medals in archery and air rifle for the last three years, and thinks he has a good shot at gold again at this year’s games. He’ll also test his skill in the pistol competition.
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,” he said. “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.”
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. will speak at the event’s opening ceremonies here later today.
The competition will be close this year, Benack predicted. But whoever wins it, he said, 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 U.S. Air Force Academy.
Benack grew up in Arnold, Mo., where he said shooting came natural. He said that shooting kept him “busy and sane” following his injuries in 2010 in Iraq. Benack suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
All of the wounded warriors here are at different points in their recovery, Benack 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,” he said.
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 made here will last a lifetime. And, though they might live hundreds or thousands of miles apart, they’ll keep in contact using social media.
Tara, Benack’s 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,” he said.
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 physically 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.”