TAMPA — The 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games are coming to Tampa.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson made the announcement Monday after receiving a letter from the Pentagon.
In a recent letter, the Pentagon informed Nelson that the games, which drew about 50,000 people when held in Chicago last year, will be hosted by U.S. Special Operations Command, with headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base.
"The supportive relationship between the military and Tampa community made Tampa the clear choice for the 2019 Games," Pentagon official Robert Wilkie wrote to Nelson, a Florida Democrat.
The Warrior Games were established in 2010 as a way to enhance the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded warriors and to expose them to adaptive sports. Last year, about 265 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans took part at the games, held in Chicago, representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, SOCom, United Kingdom and the Australian Defense Force.
They competed in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball. A warmup event for the SOCom team was held last year at MacDill.
The 2018 games will be held at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The idea to bring the games to Tampa was first broached by Mike Nicholson, a medically retired Marine from Tampa who lost three limbs in Afghanistan. Nicholson won six gold medals last year.
Nicholson’s interest was quickly seized upon by City Council member Luis Viera, who introduced a council measure that passed unanimously.
The City Council sent a letter to SOCom, noting the command’s strong relationship with the community. That was followed by letters from Rich Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who wrote to SOCom’s commander, Army Gen. Raymond A. "Tony" Thomas III.
"I am elated that we are getting the Warrior Games in Tampa," said Viera. "This is a city that is patriotic and supports our troops and their families. I thank local leaders and bipartisan elected officials who supported this effort. No endeavor I have undertaken as an elected official has given me greater personal satisfaction than working to get the Warrior Games here to Tampa."
Viera gave the biggest hat tip to Nicholson.
"The greatest credit goes to a son of Tampa and proud United States Marine who began this effort, Mike Nicholson," he said. "This is a moment for Mike’s family to be proud that they know and love this great American hero."
Nicholson said the games will be great for veterans participating and the community watching.
"The people of Tampa will be able to see a lot of veterans pushing themselves past a limit they didn’t know they had," said Nicholson. "That is something we should all be excited for."
It’s unclear whether the Tampa games will be held on or off base. Officials from SOCom could not immediately be reached for comment.
Taking events off base in Chicago created "more excitement and energy about the games," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tom Gordy, a Warrior Games spokesman.
"Having them off base allows the public to come and participate and watch the games, whereas behind the gates it is much more difficult."
Current security measures limit the number of people who can drive onto MacDill and other military installations.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.