Coast Guard and Navy join forces in 2015 DoD Warrior Games

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Honings

Petty Officer 1st Class Jaime Byrd, captain for Team Navy in the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games, prepares to shoot in the archery competition. Byrd took home the bronze medal for the event. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Honings.

Petty Officer 1st Class Jaime Byrd, captain for Team Navy in the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games, prepares to shoot in the archery competition. Byrd took home the bronze medal for the event. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Honings.

The smell of sweat permeates the air of the large football-sized field where a dozen colorful canopies sprinkle the field offering meager amounts of shade. The temperature hit 95 degrees early in the morning, the atmosphere heavy with humidity, and volunteers make continuous loops throughout the tents offering cool water. It’s a day most would gladly spend indoors.

The tents all label a different military service: Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, Special Operations Command, British Armed Forces and Navy. Within the Navy tent sits the lone Coast Guardsman, Lt. Sancho Johnson, retired.

Johnson was a former Coast Guardsman who was injured in an automobile accident in 2009 that resulted in a spinal cord injury. Since then, Johnson has worked with the support of his family, the Coast Guard and Navy Safe Harbor to build his strength and his outlook on life.

“In this life, you have to have a good support system or it’ll be hard for you to make it,” said Johnson. “Whether it’s family, friends, coworkers or teammates, you definitely need a good support system in order to live this lifestyle.”

While his spinal cord injury is a hurdle, it doesn’t stop him from contending in the shot put and discus throw field competitions in the annual Wounded Warriors Project’s Warrior Games. The games feature eight adaptive sports: archery, cycling, field, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and wheelchair basketball.

Coast Guard Lt. Sancho Johnson, retired, prepares to throw a shot in the shot put field event of the Department of Defense Wounded Warriors 2015 Games at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015. Johnson has participated in four warrior games since an automobile accident injured his spinal cord in 2009. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Honings.

Coast Guard Lt. Sancho Johnson, retired, prepares to throw a shot in the shot put field event of the Department of Defense Wounded Warriors 2015 Games at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015. Johnson has participated in four warrior games since an automobile accident injured his spinal cord in 2009. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Honings.

This year, three injured service members from the Coast Guard participated in the events. Besides Johnson, Petty Officer 1st Class Jamie Byrd and Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristen Esget also competed.

“This is great – a lot of fun,” said Byrd, captain of Navy’s archery team. “It’s basically the culmination of everything that we worked hard to get to. It’s been phenomenal to finally get to this point. Everyone is really friendly and really good, but you’ll see it gets really fierce as they’re competing and as they’re moving along.”

The competitions loosely mirror the Paralympic Games, but whereas most in the Paralympics were born with physical disabilities and had years to prepare for the games, all those involved in the Warrior Games incurred their disabilities while in the service to their country.

“It was very difficult in the beginning,” said Johnson. “I think what helped me through was the fact that I decided to do rehab with my family and friends. That was the encouragement I needed to keep me going. Having a military background kind of helped out as well because it gave me the ‘don’t quit, never defeated’ mentality, and that helped push me over the hill along with my family and friends.”

Retired Lt. Sancho Johnson participates in field events at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games. Johnson is participating in the Warrior Games for the fourth time. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Honings.

Retired Lt. Sancho Johnson participates in field events at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games. Johnson is participating in the Warrior Games for the fourth time. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Honings.

While earning the medal was the end goal for those competing, for some like Johnson and Byrd, what really mattered was being there to support their teammates.

“I felt like it was a good opportunity to come here and see what I could do athletically as well as be able to support my teammates,” said Johnson. “I think that’s the biggest thing for me – I enjoy competing but it means a lot to me to be able to be supportive of the first and second time competitors. Some have never won a medal before but this year, we had one win and I was right there to cheer them on. I think that’s what is most important to me.”

For those who have been injured in the line of duty, both Johnson and Byrd agreed that the best way to pick yourself back up after an injury is to take it one day at a time.

“Stay with it, stay strong, keep working and keep moving forward,” said Byrd. “Work towards getting to that other end. After I was injured, my whole world turned upside down. It was a whirlwind, so I started hitting those benchmarks: getting through the medical board and working on the transition on what I was going to do on the outside. The Navy adaptive sports and Navy Safe Harbor program provided me the assets that I needed to work on resumes and work on adaptive sports to build my confidence up and help me with my recovery. They’ve been great. My advice is to just stay with it, keep working on it, take the initiative and that drive that you had prior to your injury and continue to use that.”

Click here to learn more about the Wounded Warrior Games.

Click here for more information about what Navy Safe Harbor can do you for you.

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