TAMPA — U.S. Special Operations Command, which synchronizes the global war on terror, is gearing up for a new mission.
The command is working to make sure the Department of Defense Warrior Games, which are coming to Tampa next year between June 21 and June 30, are a big success.
"We want to showcase the athleticism and the competitiveness of these people," said Army Col. Cary Harbaugh, who is running the adaptive sports competition for wounded, ill and injured troops and veterans for SOCom.
Having big local crowds come out and cheer them on is a huge incentive, said Harbaugh, speaking at a news conference last Monday at the SofWerx incubator facility in Ybor City.
"These guys and gals are tough folks. They have been through a lot," Harbaugh said. "And hopefully we can get more and more public out there to watch and see just how remarkable these people are."
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.
For its first four years, it was held at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s facility in Colorado Springs, Colo. Now it’s hosted by the individual services in a rotation that includes SOCom. Next year is the Tampa-based command’s turn to host the event.
That has sparked a groundswell of support for the games, with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the Tampa City Council, the Hillsborough County Commission, the Tampa Sports Commission, Visit Tampa Bay, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and other organizations pledging to help. Gov. Rick Scott also has offered assistance.
About 300 athletes from the four military services, plus SOCom and several foreign nations, are scheduled to compete, Harbaugh said. In Tampa, the Netherlands and Denmark are expected to join the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia in the competition.
The athletes will square off in 14 events, including archery, wheelchair basketball, cycling, track and field, and swimming. There will be three new events next year — golf, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis, Harbaugh said.
About 1,000 family members and about 1,000 staffers and coaches also will attend, making the event a win-win for the tourism business.
Harbaugh said the greater Tampa area has already shown tremendous interest, with the Tampa Sports Commission helping to secure venues.
Amalie Arena has offered to host the opening and closing ceremonies, he said, while the Tampa Convention Center has offered its services, along with the Eagles Golf Course in Odessa and the Long Center in Clearwater for swimming events. Julian B. Lane Park in Tampa has expressed interested in hosting wheelchair tennis and the command is looking at having the bicycle races on Davis Islands.
Many celebrities have offered to perform at the opening and closing ceremonies, Harbaugh said, though he declined to offer specifics.
Nothing is final yet. The Pentagon first has to sign off on any offers, Harbaugh said.
"Amalie Arena holds about 22,000," he said. "We like to say we are counting on having 26,000" for the opening and closing ceremonies. "We want to have this place packed."
For those who want more information, or to volunteer, go to dodwarriorgames.com.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.