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SOCom and Tampa gearing up for Defense Department's Warrior Games, coming here in June

The Warrior Games were established in 2010 to enhance the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded, ill and injured warriors and to expose them to adaptive sports.
Medically retired Marine Corps Sgt. Mike Nicholson of Tampa prepares to start a wheelchair race during the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Chicago.
Published Jan. 15

In a little more than six months, some 300 adaptive sports athletes from around the military and about 1,000 of their family members will converge on Tampa to take part in the Defense Department's Warrior Games.

That may not seem like a ton of time, but given that U.S. Special Operations Command is hosting the event this year, those planning the adaptive sports competition are confident that the plan will come together.

"We are very thankful for the community support," said Army Maj. Anthony Mayne, a command spokesman. "We have the ability to do almost every sporting event out in the public and that would not happen without the cooperation of everyone from the mayor's office on down."

And, in case folks need a reminder, Jon Stewart, former host of The Daily Show and a big supporter of veterans and first responders, is scheduled to ride the Warrior Games float in the Jan. 26 Gasparilla daytime parade, Mayne told me.

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Opening and closing ceremonies are scheduled for Amalie Arena, while other events will be held at the Tampa Convention Center and locations around the area. Mayne said the big effort right now is planning how to move so many people to so many venues.

"An army travels on its belly and you can never overlook logistics," he said. "We have done all the macro planning and now we are into the micro details. We continue to find points of friction and find ways to resolve them."

Next month, representatives from the five military services will come to Tampa for a Defense Department-wide planning conference "so they can see the venues and facilities and start their own preparations as well," said Mayne.

Meanwhile, as SOCom plans things out, the Warrior Games Committee, a group representing local politicians, veterans groups, Gold and Blue Star families, businesses and community organizations, held its second meeting Monday morning.

"In terms of organizing people to spread the word, I think that we are, to quote Tony Bennett, 'just in time,'" said Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera, who has been heading that effort.

The meeting was "very productive," said Viera. "About 65 people came together to talk about ways to promote this wonderful patriotic effort to our larger Tampa community. The real challenge now is to go into the different sectors of our larger Tampa community and promote this amazing effort so that when these heroes come to Tampa in June to compete, they will be welcomed in every way possible. It's the least we can do for these men and women."

Viera said the group broke into committees, which are scheduled to report back in a month.

"The main idea is that when these men and women compete in these games, we want to make sure that grateful Tampanians are there cheering them on and encouraging them," he said, clearly taking a stand on what to call folks from Glorious Tampastan. "These men and women have gone through hell and now are proudly competing in competitive sports. This is a very emotional process for them and we should have their back."

SOCom's Mayne said that by next month, the command will be pushing for volunteers, especially those willing to help in the logistics realm.

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The Warrior Games were established in 2010 as a way to enhance the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded, ill and injured 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. The athletes will square off in 14 events, including archery, wheelchair basketball, cycling, track and field, and swimming. There will be three new events this year — golf, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis.

In addition to the athletes and families, about 1,000 staffers and coaches also will attend, making the event a win-win for the tourism business.

If you'd like to help, email dodwarriorgames19@gmail.com or call (813 826-2854).

•••

The Pentagon announced no new deaths in ongoing operations last week.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 61 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel; 56 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one troop death in support of Operation Joint Guardian, one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; one death in Operation Octave Shield and six deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112 . Follow @haltman

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