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Warrior Games Recognition Ceremony

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Pentagon Courtyard, Washington D.C., Monday, June 25, 2012

Thanks very much Charlie, and thanks for your leadership and thanks for your guidance and thanks for your dedication.  This is a remarkable program and it obviously reflects your commitment to everything that is good about America.  Ray Odierno, Mike Donnelly, General Schwartz, all the guests that are here, ladies and gentlemen.  It is, for me, a real pleasure to have the opportunity to be with you today, and especially to be with our warrior athletes and with their families.  It’s an honor for me to be able to celebrate the remarkable achievements that all of you have done and also to celebrate your resilience.  I cannot tell you how much you inspire us with your courage, with your determination, with your athletic prowess, with your physical strength – it’s an incredible inspiration.

These men and women who overcome immense odds to suddenly come out and compete in these games represent, I believe, the strength, the integrity, the character of many American service members who have persevered in the face of huge challenges that they’ve had to recover from the wounds of war.  Their stories represent the fighting spirit of the brave men and women who serve on the front lines around the world. 

Take for example Navy Lieutenant Brad Snyder, who is with us here today.  While serving as a bomb disposal technician in Afghanistan last year, he was blinded by an IED explosion.  But Brad was determined to not let the loss of his sight stop him. 

Last month, he competed in the Warrior Games, winning a total of seven gold medals –

three in track, four in swimming.  And at last week’s U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials, Brad won all five events he competed in and set a new, world-best time for vision-impaired athletes in both the 100-meter and the 400-meter freestyle.  

When Brad steps up to the blocks in London on September 7th to compete in the Paralympic Games, it will be one year to the day since his injury.

Brad, we’re all in awe of your determination and your personal spirit, and all of us are going to be cheering your success in London.  God bless you.

His story is an example of what I see when I visit our wounded warriors at medical centers around the world, and I will be visiting Brooke Hospital in Texas this week on Wednesday.  Many of these brave men and women have incurred horrible wounds, face lengthy recoveries.  But I never fail to come away from all of those visits inspired and motivated by their grit and by their spirit.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, will stop them.

I often meet these extraordinary young men and women just days after they have been wounded in battle.  In that acute phase of recovery, I know that it’s hard for some to imagine ever competing for an athletic event.  And yet the will, the sheer guts to overcome the wounds, to overcome the obstacles that face these warrior athletes, their determination to return to a “new normal,” is not just inspiring, it is nothing short of a miracle – a miracle of emotional, and physical, and mental strength.

We owe it to you to never forget your service and your sacrifice.  For all of the members of this next generation who return home with the wounds of war, the Department is fully committed to helping them return to service or to transition to civilian life.  The American people and communities throughout our nation must be partners in this effort and they are. 

I’d like to take just a moment to thank some of those who make these Warrior Games possible.  Particularly the United States Olympic Committee that puts on these games.   

I’d also like to thank the United Services Organization, the Fisher House Foundation, the Bob Woodruff Foundation, the Semper Fi Fund, and the Team Semper Fi Army Homefront Fund for their efforts on behalf of our warriors here today and their families.

In the past decade of war, we have learned a lot about treating our wounded warriors, including the value of sports, of competition, of recreation in strengthening minds and in strengthening bodies.  

And I’m glad that with the support of these organizations and those here today, we are able to provide access to world class coaches, mentors, facilities, and a growing network of adaptive sports experts.  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.  We have sent a very clear message to our enemies that no one attacks the United States of America and gets away with it – no one.  And you, our wounded warriors, have sent an equally tough message to our enemies…you can wound me, and you can hurt me, but you can never take my life, my spirit, or my hope away.

What all of you are doing together is a powerful miracle that shows us the triumph of the great American spirit that makes our country, and makes our military, the strongest on earth.  

God bless all of you, and God bless this great country.

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