Military Olympians Visit Pentagon, Express Thanks for Support
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2008 Military Olympians and Paralympians visited the Pentagon today and expressed their gratitude for the Defense Department’s support and partnership.
“There’s been a long history of military involvement in the Olympic and Paralympic games,” Charlie Huebner, chief of Paralympics in Colorado Springs, Col., said.
More than 25 military athletes in this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing were involved in the armed forces, either on active duty or as veterans, Huebner said. They earned seven gold medals, one silver medal and three bronze medals.
Retired Army 1st Lt. Melissa Stockwell, a Paralympic swimmer, is the first Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran to participate in the Paralympic games. Stockwell lost most of her left leg in April 2004 when her convoy was struck by a roadside bomb. Her strength and determination should serve as an inspirational example for other wounded warriors, Huebner said.
Huebner said Stockwell, better than anybody, can walk the halls of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“One of the biggest things [military Paralympians] can do is assume roles as mentors for other wounded servicemembers,” he said. “Being able to go and spend time with other wounded warriors is critically important, and I can think of none better than those who’ve been wounded in war [and] then became Olympians.”
As chief of Paralympics, one of Huebner’s objectives is developing athletic and community programs for wounded veterans. The programs assist the newly injured and their families in letting them know that their lives are not over, he said.
“We just want to let wounded [veterans] know that they can still be physically active, they can still pursue education, and if they want, they can represent their country again at the Paralympic games,” he said.
Stockwell expressed her appreciation for the Defense Department’s support of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and wounded warrior programs, citing how sports and competition are important to rehabilitating servicemembers.
“Sports have played a huge role for all of us here,” Stockwell said, “and just getting back out there in life and enjoying the things that we used to do and the new things we try is something we have to do. These programs do give hope.”