NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- Wounded warriors joined together here April 7 to celebrate the opening ceremonies of the first ever Air Force trials competition at the Warrior Fitness Center.
The trials are an adaptive sports camp used to identify which athletes will be selected as members of the Air Force Warrior Games team and compete against other military branches September 2014. The trials will last through April 11, during which time athletes will compete in seven different events including archery, basketball, cycling, track and field, swimming, shooting and volleyball.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody, along with their spouses Betty and Athena, joined Air Force Col. Barry Cornish, the 99th Air Base Wing commander, and Las Vegas community partners to celebrate the opening ceremonies.
“It’s an honor to join you today,” Welsh said. “This is a special week for about 137 people sitting here, but there are some people who’ve worked awfully hard to make it happen. Thank you so much for giving our athletes a chance to compete in a venue like this. I’d also like to thank all of you who are here today specifically, especially family members and friends, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, children, even service dogs who are all part of the great survival process. Thanks all of you for what you do for these athletes, and what you will continue to do for these athletes as they challenge themselves and succeeded time after time, after time.”
Welsh also thanked the Wounded Warrior organization for the remarkable job they do teaching real warriors real skills for real battles of life so they can show the rest of us what real strength is all about.
After the general’s speech, Capt. Tony Simone and Master Sgt. Christopher Aguillera were joined by Carolyn Goodman, Las Vegas Mayor, to light a cauldron signifying the beginning of the Air Force Trials. Both Aguillera and Simone are survivors of the June 9, 2010, “Pedro 66” helicopter crash in southwest Afghanistan that killed five of the seven crewmembers.
After lighting the cauldron, members of 66th Rescue Squadron flew two HH-60G Pave Hawks over the crowd, and Air Force Capt. Michael Ellingsen, a 58th RQS combat rescue officer, and Master Sgt. Corey Kuttie, a 58th RQS pararescueman, rappelled down to deliver two flags bearing the Wounded Warrior program’s motto, “Care Beyond Duty,” to be delivered to Welsh and Cody.
Welsh and Cody then presented the flags to Maj. James Bales and Cami Stock, Wounded Warrior Project coaches, on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project staff and the many of warriors they have coached.
“My background is as an orthopedic surgeon, and so to come from actually putting these guys back together and seeing what they’re accomplishing today, it’s just an amazing honor to be a part of it,” Bales said. “I see the full circle, and that’s what really inspires me.”
As the ceremony concluded Airmen, Soldiers and civilians gathered to meet with athletes and discuss the games.
“We’re all excited,” said Melissa Guzman, the health information manager and an Air Force Trials athlete. “We’ve all been working hard for this, some of us for a long time. The opening ceremony was humbling. It makes you feel really good to be a part of something and really good to be a part of the Air Force again. It just makes you proud of everyone who’s here. ”
Guzman said it was nice to see Air Force leadership present at the opening ceremony because it shows they truly do care, and they want to be a part of wounded warriors’ life. She said it shows they want wounded warriors to know they are still Air Force members.