This year’s Department of Defense Warrior Games competition — which enhances the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded, ill, and injured service members through adaptive sports — kicks off June 21.
In past years, the games have been hosted by the Defense Department, the Navy, the Air Force, the Army and the U.S. Olympic Committee. For the first time this year, the games are being hosted by U.S. Special Operations Command on its home turf in Florida’s Tampa Bay area, June 21-30.
During a news conference to announce this year’s games, Army Gen. Tony Thomas, Socom commander, explained why the 2019 games will be headed farther south than they’ve ever been before.
"I’ve had the great opportunity to participate in the Warrior Games for the last three years over the course of my command tenure," Thomas said. Those games were held in West Point, New York; Chicago; and Colorado Springs, Colorado. The general also said he’s attended the Invictus Games — a similar competition created by Britain’s Prince Harry — in Toronto.
Thomas said Socom has some 15,000 service members in its own warrior care program, including both active duty and retired personnel. Socom has fielded a team in the Warrior Games for almost as long as the games have existed.
"We’ve been participating in these games for almost a decade now," Thomas said. "Why don’t we get a chance to host it?"
The simple answer was that Socom had never asked to host, he said.
"The bold assumption we made was, 'Do we think the Greater Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater environment would support us?'" he said. "We knew, going away, the answer was yes. We went out on a limb a little bit and asked our department, 'Can we host it here?' and at the same time socialized it with the great leadership here in the local area. The outpouring, as expected, has been nothing short of extraordinary."
Around 300 athletes will participate in the 2019 Games. The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Socom are again fielding teams, as are allied nations including the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. And this year for the first time, both Denmark and the Netherlands will participate.
Those athletes will compete in 11 adaptive sports, including archery, cycling, indoor rowing, powerlifting, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, time trial cycling, track and field and wheelchair basketball.
The Warrior Games, Thomas said, is "a showcase of our extraordinary warriors who have been dealt a tough hand of cards in terms of being wounded, ill, or injured across the course of their time in service. But more importantly, it gives them an opportunity to shine and demonstrate their resilience, their extraordinary resilience in the face of those challenges in a variety of adaptive sports programs."
"You will see courage and resilience like you have never seen before," he added. "If you don’t walk away inspired, you don’t have a pulse. It’s that level of commitment and fortitude that’s displayed."