COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – In 2005, former Marine and now-retired Army Sgt. Joseph "Joey" C. Smith lay in a Veterans Affairs hospital, wracked with pain. He watched other wounded veterans around him suffering, many despondent and without hope.
Smith said that at that time, he was at the lowest point in his life.
A year earlier, he had been at a remote forward operating base in Afghanistan on his fourth deployment when he was injured. He was working alongside Afghan soldiers around some storage containers. He said two of them climbed onto the roof of one of the containers and intentionally pushed another container on top of him.
For the next four years, he transferred among multiple hospitals where he underwent three surgeries on his spinal cord, as well as one on his leg. Doctors told him he was lucky to be alive.
He also lost the use of his voice for those four years, but using pen and paper, he wrote just a few words that he said helped to inspire other wounded warriors in that hospital as well as himself.
The Marine Corps later adopted what he wrote as their own "Creed of the Wounded Warrior," and the words quickly spread, inspiring countless others.
"Though I am wounded, I will always be a warrior. I will never give up, nor quit in the face of adversity. I will do my best in all that I do and achieve. I will not allow my injuries to limit me, and most of all, I will never forget my fallen comrades or leave a fellow injured warrior behind," reads the creed.
That such a simple message as this inspired so many is amazing, he said.
Following his hospitalization, Smith followed his creed to "do my best in all that I do and achieve" by entering the 2010 Wounded Warrior games, the first year of that competition. That year he competed in shooting, swimming, cycling and archery. At the games, the athletes are all wounded, ill or injured veterans and service members.
Smith has returned to the games every year since and this week he's competing in the shooting and swimming events at the Olympic Training Center and U.S. Air Force Academy here.
He said the intense interservice and interpersonal rivalries really motivate the athletes, but "at the end of the day, it's one team, one fight," meaning that they are all friends who are helping each other through the healing process.
Things have been looking up for Smith, who said he plans to return to the games in the future.
In 2010, he and his wife, Debbi, received a special gift. Homes for Our Heroes, a nonprofit organization, donated a wheelchair-accessible home for them in Thomasville, N.C. He said words can't describe how much that meant to them.
During the competitions this week, some 400 members of the media from around the world are covering the games, outnumbering the athletes nearly 2 to 1.
Smith said he thinks that is "awesome" and that he hopes the media will get the word out to the world about what it means to be a wounded warrior and how they are all trying hard to rebuild their lives, assisting one another, despite the suffering they have endured.
|Army Wounded Warriors|