With President Obama proclaiming, "Let the games begin," in a taped message to 270 athletes and their family members, the 2015 Warrior Games kicked off Friday, launching more than a week of fierce, Paralympic-style competition on the verdant grounds of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
The opening ceremonies, held at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, brought together six teams — from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Special Operations Command and the British Armed Forces, for a torch-lighting ceremony and accolades from Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Adm. James Winnefeld and others.
"You inspire our entire country to always honor those who serve," Carter told the competitors. "I'm going to make sure that our commitment to taking care of you now and in the future remains as strong as ever."
Winnefeld praised the athletes, who will compete in eight sports — wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, archery, track, field, cycling, shooting and swimming — for their "grit and determination" in recovering from their illnesses and injuries and then advancing beyond them to excel in the field of sport.
"You are among those who understand that boundaries only exist in the mind," he said.
The competition begins early Saturday with wheelchair basketball games starting at 7 a.m. and running through 7 p.m.
SOCOM's Sualauvi Tuimalealifano passes the torch to British Army Pvt. Kimberly Sterling at the opening ceremony of the 2015 Warrior Games at National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., on Friday, June 19, 2015.
Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff
Among those competing in basketball are Army Sgt. Blake Johnson, whose stunning half-court shot at an Army playoff game at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, went viral in February.
It was named a top play by ESPN and featured on "Good Morning America" after being shown on ABC 7 in Washington, D.C.
For the athletes, the Friday ceremony was a chance to enjoy camaraderie and fellowship before they battle in their events.
For many, the highlight came when athletes carried the torch and lit the cauldron, symbolizing the spirit of the games and the connection with athletic competitors past and future.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter welcomes athletes and their families to the 2015 Warrior Games at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., on Friday, June 19, 2015.
Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff
Those honored to bear the torch for their teams were: Army Sgt. 1st Class Samantha Goldenstein; Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Senior Chief Austin Reese, accompanied by retired Navy Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Adrian Mohammed; Air Force Senior Airman Kevin O'Brien, with Senior Airman Jennifer Stone; Special Operations Command Army Sgt. 1st Class Sualauvi Tuimalealiitano and Army Sgt. 1st Class Alfred Martinez; United Kingdom Senior Nursing Officer Susan Warner; and retired Marine Cpl. Ray Hennagir, accompanied by Marine Sgt. Clayton McDaniel.
Obama praised the athletes for "stepping forward when the nation needed" them. He added that one of the most rewarding parts of his presidency has been serving as commander in chief.
"We are never going to stop providing you the care and benefits you need to heal, the education, the jobs ... We're going to be there every step of the way," Obama said.
The games are open to the public, and all events will be at Quantico, except for the swimming events, which will be at the Freedom Aquatic Center in nearby Manassas.