Tag Archives: wounded warriors

Warrior Games 2013: An inside look

Air Force News Service
Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Warrior Games, a spirited competition that pits wounded, ill or injured service members and veterans against their representative services, continues into its fourth year as teams converge on Colorado Springs, Colo., beginning May 11.

This year, 50 Airmen and former Airmen will compete in individual and team sports including archery, cycling, shooting, swimming, track and field, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.

Over the next two weeks you’ll get a close-up look at these warriors and the long road they’ve travelled from, in some cases death’s door, to becoming some of the premier wounded athletes in the country.

There’s the story of Katie Robinson, a former combat camera videographer who was shot in Iraq and has worked through PTSD issues to compete in both swimming and track and field. Then there’s Darrell Fisher, a former senior airman who was pronounced dead in a random shooting and went through an intense near death experience before a long road to recovery.

Staff Sgt. Lara Ishikawa tells the story of her fight against invasive mammary carcinoma. “It’s heart-wrenching,” Ishikawa said. “Nobody expects to get cancer, and I had no family history of it. I’ve always been very healthy and active, and I tried to take care of myself. It was a shock…” She, along with two other cancer survivors, will compete this year.

Then there is the story of Master Sgt. Paul Horton, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal NCO, who says he was always the unlucky one growing up and has been blown up on six different occasions to prove it. He tells his story of overcoming the odds each time and somehow turning potential tragedy into a series of learning experiences. Maybe he’s not so unlucky after all.

These stories and more will be highlighted over the next two weeks as warriors from all services come together to show their mettle and compete over six days and seven events. These stories will sometimes amaze you, sometimes pull at your heart strings, but in all cases show examples of turning tragedy into something much more positive.

As a beginning to this series on the warrior games, below is a special post submitted by one of the Air Force wounded warriors.

By Keith Sekora
Air Force Wounded Warrior

Last month, 55 Airmen came together to represent the Air Force at a training camp for all 2013 Warrior Games competitors. Throughout the camp, we endured a rigorous training regiment to compete in different sports like track and field, shooting, swimming, cycling, archery, wheelchair basketball and seated volleyball.

For me, training days started out with more than two hours of track and field practice where I was put through the paces of throwing a discus and shot-put by coaches Buddy and Jenn Lizzol. After a quick lunch break, I attended another two-hour training session to gear up for seated volleyball where I was physically and mentally challenged every day by coaches Nicki Marino and Adrieen Rank. After a short drive to the archery range, I spent another two hours honing my archery skills under the watchful eye of Coach Gary. My favorite sport is definitely seated volleyball because I played it before I was wounded and love the fact that with some adaptation I can continue to play.

Retired Tech. Sgt. Keith Sekora practices a serve during sitting volleyball.
PHOTO: Retired Tech. Sgt. Keith Sekora practices a serve during sitting volleyball at the 2013 Warrior Games training camp at the Air Force Academy, Colo. Sekora is competing in volleyball, shot-put and discus.

After shrapnel from an improvised explosive device struck the back of my neck during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, I suffered a series of four strokes and was left with post-traumatic stress disorder, memory loss, vertigo and loss of feeling on the left side of my body. But, that hasn’t swayed my confidence in participating because I love competing in the Warrior Games. It gives me a sense of purpose again and also lets me know that I am not alone. Each of us compete under the flag of our branch of service, but I think it’s more important that we get to meet other wounded warriors who understand what we are going through. Everyone is willing to help each other out, no matter what branch you are from.

This is my second Warrior Games, and this year’s team is very young. There are not many returning athletes from last year’s games, and those who have returned are mentoring the new athletes.

Another big change is in the behind-the-scenes staff who worked hard to help things move along smoothly. This is by far the best training camp I have attended yet. Last year, leading up to the 2012 Warrior Games, I attended several adaptive sports camps with members of the Navy, Coast Guard and U.S. Special Operations Command teams and developed good friendships with many of them.

Don’t get me wrong, the competition is hard and no one lets up at all. We are here to show the world that even though we are wounded or disabled, we are still fierce competitors. I think 55 individual athletes came to training camp and left as a team with one thought in mind — to win!

Wingmen enable Airman’s incredible recovery


Senior Airman Jayson Phillips works with his physical trainer
By Chief Master Sgt. M. Shane Flint
543rd ISR Group

Resiliency, wingman, core values — these are terms we use every day to describe and define us as Airmen. Every day, I come to work and see examples of Airmen who are resilient, Airmen who take care of their fellow Airmen, Airmen who live and operate by our core values.

On Sept. 19, 2011, four Airmen from the 543rd Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance Group here took action and were perfect examples of why we use the words above in describing and defining “Airman.” Those actions likely saved the life of a fellow Airman.

September 18 was a regular day for Senior Airman Jayson Phillips. He ran 14 miles then made his weekly call to his younger brother in Dallas to rub in how fast his run time was. After his call, it was time to prepare for the work week and get some quality sleep.

The following day began normally for one of Phillips’ supervisors, Tech. Sgt. Erica Vasquez, until one of her subordinates, Staff Sgt. Tyler George, relayed that Phillips had not shown up for work. Vasquez and George knew it was not at all like Phillips to be late.

As soon as Senior Airman John Hill heard Phillips was late, he knew something was wrong. It wasn’t like his best friend not to call. When they could not make contact by phone, Hill immediately volunteered to go to Phillips’ home with George. When George and Hill arrived at the apartment they found Phillips’ vehicle parked in front.

He should be home.

They started knocking on the door, but there was no response. Now, fearing the worst for their friend and wingman, these Airmen rushed to the apartment manager’s office and convinced him to open the door for them. Once inside, their fears were confirmed: Phillips lay collapsed on his bed, initially unresponsive to their pleas.

George and Hill immediately put their self-aid and buddy-care training to the test. Once they established Phillips was breathing, they fought to get him conscious and called 911. By the time responding medical professionals were on the scene, they had Phillips semi-conscious. En route to the hospital, George assisted in keeping Phillips responsive while Hill phoned Vasquez and squadron leaders with reports.

Once at the hospital, medical professionals stabilized Phillips, getting him into the intensive care unit. George and Hill were still engaged. Because of his close friendship, Hill contacted Phillips’ family, whom he knew, with the news. He kept in constant touch with them and didn’t leave his friend’s side as the Phillips family drove the few hours from their home to San Antonio. Once the family arrived, George, Hill and squadron and site leaders maintained a 24-hour presence with the Phillips family to ensure they had access to housing, base facilities and a steady flow of home-cooked meals.

Through testing, doctors concluded this young healthy Airman had suffered a severe stroke.

I visited Phillips and his family in the midst of the initial turmoil. When Col. David Foglesong, 543d ISR Group commander, and I arrived, Hill was right there with the Phillips family offering his support — a solid wingman.

What I had not prepared myself for was seeing Phillips’ condition. He was now a 25-year-old who could barely move his hands, could not talk, with one side of his body paralyzed from the stroke.

He was conscious for only a minute or two while we were in the room. My heart sank to see such a vibrant, bright, American Airman stricken so severely. I just hoped that he could recover enough to get part of his functionality back. As he struggled just to remain awake that day, I didn’t take into consideration Phillips’ resiliency and his ability and determination to come back to full strength.

Three weeks went by. I next saw a different Phillips. As before, I wasn’t prepared for what I would see. He sat upright, talking and doing exercises to strengthen his arms. He was slowly moving his formerly paralyzed side.

A month after that, he was walking. Doctors were amazed at his recovery.

On my next visit, he had moved to the nearby Fisher House. To my amazement, he was walking with a cane and his speech was completely back. I told him, “We are going on a run soon.”

Without blinking an eye Phillips replied, “I will be running by spring.”

Phillips continued an amazing recovery. The staff of the treatment facility who helped with his initial recovery were so impressed with his dedication and determination they recognized him with their second annual Resilient Warrior Award. As I sat at the ceremony, I fought tears when he walked to receive his award, less than five months after suffering a severe stroke.

After the ceremony, I shook Phillips’ hand. Standing beside him were George, Hill and Vasquez, his wingmen. The Airmen who were not only most likely responsible for saving his life, but also the Airman who stayed there for Phillips and his family through his recovery. They weren’t there because they had to be. They were there for this resilient Airman because of their commitment to their core values. They made me proud of — and to be — an American Airman.