Idaho Guard Supports Special Olympics
By Army 1st Lt. Clint Miller
Special to American Forces Press Service
BOISE, Idaho, Feb. 4, 2009 About 200 soldiers and airmen from the Idaho National Guard are on duty today to prepare for the 2009 Special Olympics Winter World Games being held here Feb. 7 to 13.
Army Staff Sgt. Laura Schmitt of the Idaho National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters loads snowshoe equipment at the Sun Valley Nordic Center during the Special Olympics Invitational Games held in February 2008. U.S. Army photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Athletes from more than 100 countries with more than 2,500 delegates will converge on the state to participate in athletic events such as alpine skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, speed skating, figure skating, floor hockey and cross-country skiing.
Opening ceremonies will be held at the Idaho Center in Nampa on Feb. 7. The athletes and delegates will then spread across the state to participate in the various sporting events. At each event venue in Boise, McCall and Sun Valley, the Idaho National Guard will have teams ready to assist the Special Olympics organizers and athletes.
An Idaho National Guard joint task force is working with the Special Olympics Games Organizing Committee to assist with missions such as logistical support, emergency service support and monitoring vital assets during the games.
"It's been wonderful to participate and watch our Joint Task Force Special Olympics come together and deploy for this event, which puts Idaho on the world's stage for the next couple of weeks,” Army Lt. Col. Tim Marsano, public affairs officer for the effort, said. He added that Navy Reserve sailors are serving along with the Guard members in the joint task force.
This will not be the first time the Special Olympics committee and Idaho National Guard have partnered for an event. Leading up to the 2009 World Winter Games, the Special Olympics Organizing Committee hosted the 2008 Special Olympics Invitational Winter Games here.
On a smaller scale, those games helped to determine which winter sporting events would work best in each community, officials said. It also provided a chance for the Idaho National Guard to determine how much support it could provide for the World Winter Games in 2009.
Boise hosted most of the venues for the 2008 Invitational Games. Floor hockey events took place at Boise State University, while alpine skiing was held at Bogus Basin Ski Resort, just outside Boise. Boise was the distribution center for all venues, and soldiers and airmen worked together to organize material and load trucks headed to remote sites.
Idaho National Guard members also assisted with the transportation of Special Olympics athletes and delegates throughout the Invitational Games.
During the competition, the soldiers and airmen said they were inspired by the athletes and proud of their contribution to the Games.
“It felt good to take part in an activity that really affected the lives of special-needs athletes,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class James Mace of the Idaho Army National Guard said. “I can’t wait to participate again next year.”
In Sun Valley, the athletes participated in snowshoeing and cross-country skiing events at the Sun Valley Nordic Center. Heavy snowfall ensured success for the sporting events, but also provided challenges for the Idaho National Guard.
Army Maj. Alex Shaffer commanded the Sun Valley task force. “It was good working with the community volunteers and Special Olympics staff,” he said. “But the best part was working with the athletes, because everyone fed off their excitement.”
The National Guard will have task forces working in both Sun Valley and McCall this year. Their members will assist by moving supplies around the remote sites and monitoring the event sites in the evenings.
Guard members will not provide security, but they know local law enforcement is only a radio call away if they need them, officials said.
The crews begin working at the sites today. The mission is scheduled to end on Feb. 14, when all supplies, sporting equipment and athletes have headed back home. Army Col. John Goodale, the joint task force commander, said the Idaho Guard is thrilled to provide logistics support and emergency preparedness support to the Games.
“Supporting the Special Olympics Games is not only its own reward, it also serves as a training event for the Idaho National Guard as we hone our skills to prepare for any disaster emergency,” he said.
(Army 1st Lt. Clint Miller serves with the Idaho National Guard.)