FORT BLISS, Texas – Joshua Andrew, 28, an Army veteran who’d served in Iraq and Afghanistan, knew from a tender age what his calling in life would be, as he played "soldier" with his golden Labrador retriever in the woods behind his grandparents’ house in the state of Washington.
What Andrew didn’t know was that the medal he’d win during the shot put competition at the Army Trials here would be the same color as his childhood dog.
A former sergeant, Andrew dislocated his right knee and experienced a traumatic brain injury during his military service.
Last week, Andrew was among the approximately 80 wounded, ill, and injured soldiers and veterans competing here during the Army Trials, a series of athletic events, including archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball. The trials help determine who will get a spot on the Army team that will compete at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games held in late June at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. Coaches and leaders will assess the results and select athletes for the Army team.
Andrew won the open shot put competition here with a throw of 14.36 meters, but he said his desire to excel extends beyond the competition.
Destined to Join the Military
Andrew said his grandfather was a diesel mechanic in the Navy during World War II. During his early school years, when teachers would ask students knew someone that served in World War II, Andrew was the kid who raised his hand. He said he was destined to join the military.
“I used to wear my grandfather’s pea coat around the house,” Andrew said. “My father and grandfather taught me to do things right the first time -- even if it takes a little longer -- and to be proud of what I do.”
Andrew got a healthy dose of paying attention to detail, which translated into learning the technical skills needed to compete in shot put. According to Andrew, children need structure and discipline, and he was getting plenty from the adults in his life. This environment made it simple for him to grasp and hold onto the Army’s values.
“The military came so easy, so natural. It was like the missing piece in my life,” he said.
An Extended Family
The Army Trials can be viewed like an event similar to a family reunion. Athletes reconnect with old members of the "family" and welcome in newcomers.
“From the time you show up in the military, you get a battle buddy,” Andrew explained. “You are assigned one person to look after, and they look after you. As you move up in the ranks, you start getting more people assigned to you that depend on you as a leader or as a teammate.”
Each athlete has a commonality that goes beyond the uniform, but remains steeped in tradition.
“Being out here [at the Army Trials], this is our Army team,” Andrew said. “Individuals come from all walks of life; they have walked in the same steps that I have.”
Sense of Duty
Andrew talked about the importance of adaptive sports and athletic reconditioning and how it brings new life to the participants. Soldiers on active duty, veterans and retirees have a tremendous sense of duty that never wanes.
“When everyone comes together in a situation like this, regardless of the outcome, everybody performs better and leaves happier,” Andrew said. “No matter what I do, if I can help an individual improve in their own way, then that’s what I’ll do.”
The athletes have pushed and punished their bodies far beyond even what they thought was possible. When someone fell, coaches exhorted them to endure and fellow athletes stood at the ready to motivate and if necessary, carry their comrade to the finish line.
“The nurturing aspect of any good Army leader is to love the individuals around you,” Andrew said. “You have to treat them like they’re your own flesh and blood, your own family.”
Eyes on the Prize
Competition ended here April 2 and the athletes went their separate ways. However, the loyalty and attachment seen in a family is not separated by time and distance.
“You look over your shoulder and you think, ‘Man, I miss that already,’” said Andrew, before departing Fort Bliss.
The Department of Defense 2015 Warrior Games is the next challenge for the athletes who are chosen to represent the Army, and the other service branches. The DoD Warrior Games is an annual sporting competition bringing together wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans from across the country. This year’s Warrior Games will be held June 19-28 at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
This is the first year that the department is organizing the games, which were previously run by the United States Olympic Committee and held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.