PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- Forty-three wounded, ill and injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen from across the country are attending the inaugural Wounded Warrior Pacific Trials, which kicked off Nov. 12 in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Hosted by Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the trials showcase wounded warrior athletes competing for a place on the 2013 Warrior Games Navy-Coast Guard team. The final team roster will be presented during a ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial Nov. 16.
"These athletes personify dedication, perseverance and courage," said Haney. "They are warriors on the playing field and in life. Every athlete I spoke to brought up the need to compete. Their tenacity and positive attitude are an inspiration to all of us."
Throughout the week, wounded warriors will compete head-to-head in archery, cycling, track and field, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, and wheelchair basketball. Participants include active-duty and retired servicemembers with upper-body, lower-body and spinal cord injuries; serious illnesses; traumatic brain injuries; visual impairment; and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Being a part of the Navy-Coast Guard team last year was life changing," said retired Navy Lt. Rick Bennett. "When I first joined, it was a matter of life or death. Just before the Warrior Games, I had a thought - one I hadn't had in eight years. I thought: I'm glad to be alive."
Bennett, who served as a Navy chaplain, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, where he cared for the sick and dying. He said his Navy-Coast Guard teammates helped save his life.
Ultimately, 35 wounded warriors will be selected for the Navy-Coast Guard team at the 2013 Warrior Games, an annual competition among wounded warriors from all branches of military service. The team is sponsored by Navy Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor, the Navy's organization for coordinating the non-medical care of seriously wounded, ill, and injured Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, and their families. All wounded warriors are encouraged to make athletics a key component of their recovery and rehabilitation plans. Adaptive athletics is proven to have positive effects on self-esteem, stress levels and medical issues.
"I'm hoping to make the team, but just being here with these guys and having the support of the staff is a blessing," said retired Navy Electronics Technician 2nd Class Aaron Matthews.
While on leave visiting family in 2008, Matthews was involved in a car accident, sustaining a spinal cord injury, a broken neck and a broken arm; he was later diagnosed as a C-6 incomplete quadriplegic.
November marks Warrior Care Month, a time to recognize wounded warriors, as well as their caregivers, for their service, sacrifices and achievements. This year's theme, "Success through Transition," highlights the many ways wounded warriors and their families thrive after illness and injury. The 2012 Wounded Warrior Pacific Trials is a Warrior Care Month flagship event.
Currently more than 1,900 servicemembers receive assistance from the Navy Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor program.