By Shannon Collins, DoD News
As comedian Jon Stewart and Navy Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, announced the official opening of the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games here yesterday, medically retired Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Sarah Rudder walked-in a hand torch at Soldier Field, where it was passed between teams, with medically retired Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Hamilton lastly using it to light a flame for the games.
About 265 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, U.S. Special Forces Command, United Kingdom and Australian Defense Force are competing here in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball today through July 8.
Throughout the evening, celebrities including Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson and Stewart offered the athletes praise for their resiliency and thanks for their service.
Thanks from Chicago
About 10,000 people attended the opening ceremony. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel sent a video message.
“On behalf of all Chicagoans, I’m proud to welcome you to the 2017 Warrior Games in the most American of American cities,” he said. “We are thrilled to host our brave heroes and their families here for the Department of Defense Warrior Games. This year marks the first time the DoD games are being held off of a military base, and there’s no place better to kick off the games than right here in Chicago, a city that loves sports at Soldier Field, named in honor of our veterans, our military, and their families,” Emanuel said.
“Tonight, we honor 265 wounded warrior athletes who have trained for months on end, overcoming the odds to compete for gold in several sports,” the mayor said. “For the next week, I encourage you to cheer on these inspiring athletes as they demonstrate their courage and resiliency all across our city and while you’re here, I encourage you and your families to visit Navy Pier, which trained sailors for two world wars and explore the remarkable culture Chicago has to offer and all our beautiful neighborhoods. Thank you warriors for your service and sacrifice. Enjoy Chicago and the Warrior Games.”
Navy Chief Petty Officer Robin Elkington, Australian Defense Force, said the Australian team has felt welcomed by the American forces and by the Chicago people.
“The Warrior Games is all about recovery and rehabilitation and eventually reintegration into our services and back into our normal lives. It’s beautiful and brilliant to see,” Elkington said. “I hope it really continues and that we can continue to be strong as allied nations. [The support is] sensational. I can’t thank first of all the American services individually and collectively and the city of Chicago as a whole enough. They have made us feel very welcome, and I’d really like to thank the people of the United States of America for having us here for this event. It’s wonderful.”
Elkington hinted that Australia has a strong team for the games. “If we’re not on top of the medal tallies, I’d be very surprised,” he said.
Stewart took selfies with each of the teams, along with Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard, and Grammy award winner Sam Moore, from the “The Blues Brothers” fame, sang “God Bless America” and “Soul Man.”
Clarkson and Shelton
Kelly Clarkson opened the concert with “My Life Would Suck Without You” and told the crowd, “I’m excited and honored to be here. Thank you so much for your service. We are super honored. When I was told about Warrior Games, I was so inspired, and I’m just so excited to be a part of this and just thank you so much for having us here.”
As she readied the audience for “Piece By Piece,” she was overcome with emotion as she told the athletes, service members and veterans in the audience, “Y’all are real heroes; y’all are real heroes.”
Blake Shelton closed the show and told his fans, “Happy Independence Day weekend! I hope you’re not going to get tired of me celebrating these military people I see out here in the audience tonight and their families. Thank you so much.”
“The men and women that serve and protect this country on a daily basis allow the rest of us the freedoms we enjoy,” Shelton said earlier. “I’m proud to be part of this event and root these heroes on to victory at this year’s Warrior Games.”
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Curtis Krenzke, a tactical air control party specialist from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, competing for Team Socom, said he loves Clarkson’s song, “Stronger” and appreciated the support from the singers.
“Blake and Kelly are like the elite of the elite, just like Socom is,” he said. “U.S. Special Operations Command isn’t just one service; it’s all the services combined, and it’s the tip of the spear for all of our branches. We’ve got people like Blake and Kelly coming in and performing for us; they’re the elite for singer-songwriters. It’s amazing to have them come here and perform for us.”
Medically retired Army Sgt. Christy Gardner, who served as a military police member, was excited to hear Shelton perform “God Gave Me You.” “It’s meant a lot to my family over the years through rehab and everything,” she said.
Jon Stewart attended the DoD Warrior Games last year and said he enjoys being back again. “I’m honored to be back again,” he said. “I get a great inspiration from these athletes not because they’re superheroes, but because of how human they are. They’re just like you and I, but when faced with circumstances beyond their control and difficulties beyond their control, they have a choice to make and they made a choice not just to survive but to thrive, not to be content with the ordinary but to fight for the extraordinary. You can’t always choose the battle. Sometimes the battle chooses you, but you can always choose the fight you bring to the battle, and it’s the fight that these fine athletes bring every day to achieve what they’ve achieved.”
Stewart said he’s also inspired by how the athletes draw strength from their teammates and how they are there for each other.
“What’s most inspiring to me about these athletes is the joy and inspiration they take from their teammates, the strength they get from their teammates, the uplift, knowing their brothers and sisters have their backs at all times, knowing their families and caregivers have their backs at all times, that is the strength and inspiration that provides the foundation for these athletes to achieve all they can.”
Medically retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Josh Lindstrom, a former Green Beret with Socom, appreciated Stewart’s sentiments.
“I’m excited to be in the company of people who can withstand the types of adversities this crowd has faced and still participate in games instead of giving up,” he said. “I’m happy to be around them. Team Socom is going to do how we traditionally do [this week], which is better than anybody gives us credit for.”
Gardner said she enjoyed what Stewart said as well.
“Jon Stewart was amazing, and it’s great that he humanizes us and humanizes the event as well, thinking about what we’ve been through and how far we’ve come but also that we’re just people just like everybody else,” she said. “Oh, and Team Army’s taking it home this week.”