This year's Warrior Games have wrapped up, but the memories of hard-fought competition, interservice camaraderie and obstacle-smashing determination will last a lifetime.
Held this year at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, from June 15 to 21, the Warrior Games is an adaptive sports competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans.
Athletes representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom Armed Forces competed in archery, cycling, track and field, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, and wheelchair basketball.
"This is a tough competition, not a gimme competition," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who described the athletes as the top 10 percent in their fields. "I can tell you that there is not an athlete on this field who got there by themselves. They got there because of their families, their caregivers, their medical professionals, their coaches and their friends."
Medically retired Air Force Master Sgt. Reese Hines earned the title of Ultimate Champion for the games.
Vying for the title, athletes competed in their respective disability classifications. Each service branch was allotted two slots for a man and woman. Service branches also earned team points based on the designated competitors' results in their events. The Ultimate Champion was the athlete who earned the most points in the events.
Television and movie personality Jon Stewart applauds the athletes participating in the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games during closing ceremonies at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., on June 21, 2016.
Photo Credit: EJ Hersom/DoD
Hines, a first-time Warrior Games competitor, said he was surprised to end up as this year's winner.
"It's pretty overwhelming," he said. "I knew they put me in for it, but I didn't know what kind of chance I had. I just had the mindset that I would go in and do my best and try hard. I had people throughout the week trying to tell me my rankings, but I tried to separate that from what I was doing. I just wanted to focus on the singular event."
Hines, who spent 13 years in the Air Force as an explosive ordnance disposal technician, was taking apart an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan when he was called to deactivate another IED under a yellow jug with an exposed handle. Without a robot or bomb suit, he tried to deactivate the pressure plate when the device was remotely detonated, and 20 pounds of explosives activated less than 2 feet from him, he said.
Marine Corps veteran Lance Cpl. Sarah Rudder readies for a swimming event during the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., on June 20, 2016.
Photo Credit: EJ Hersom/DoD
Hines said he was inspired to try out for Warrior Games by his girlfriend and teammate, medically retired Master Sgt. Kyle Burnett, who earned the Ultimate Champion title last year. He said there may be some teasing now that they both have won the award, but he acknowledged that she did motivate him to win it.
Next the year the Navy will host the games in Chicago.
The service chose Chicago "after a rigorous selection process that included seven locations across the country," according to a Navy announcement. Planning efforts will be coordinated by Navy Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor, the Navy's lead wounded warrior program
Next year's games are slated for June. Specific dates and venues, as well as details on how athletes can apply to compete, are expected in the coming months.
Jon R. Anderson covers all that's fun, fascinating, and formidable about military life, from off-duty travel and entertainment to family and fitness. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.