HEIDELBERG, Germany — Wounded soldiers from across Germany gathered in Heidelberg on Friday to forget about their pain for a bit and focus on having some fun through sport.
Despite the soldiers’ laughter echoing across the Patton Barracks gym, there was serious business to attend to. Bragging rights were on the line, as members of the Warrior Transition Battalion-Europe battled in wheelchair basketball and seated volleyball tournaments, the final two events in a competition pitting the unit’s three companies against each other.
Although the competitors didn’t need wheelchairs to get around, the battalion’s top enlisted leader said the event structure is designed to level the playing field and allow soldiers with different types of injuries to compete.
“It’s a holistic healing approach … healing through sport,” Command Sgt. Maj. Eugene Chance said of the event and the practices that led up to it.
With an eye to the Commander’s Cup trophy, Company C hoped to retain its combined cup championship title by holding off teams from Companies A and D.
Company C, which comprises soldiers from Schweinfurt and surrounding bases, came into Friday’s competition with an edge following three events held earlier in the year -- the team marathon relay for those able to run, cycling and archery – having won the latter two.
The defending Cup champs got off to a strong start, downing Company A 14-4 in wheelchair basketball.
“We made a statement winning the first game,” said Bamberg-based Pvt. Tamarcus Miller, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury from his last Afghanistan deployment with the 54th Engineer Battalion.
Janie Herrema, athletic trainer for Company C, said sports gives the injured soldiers, who are removed from their units, a chance to build the camaraderie of being part of a team again.
“This is their new family,” Herrema said.
A 25-22, 25-22 victory over Company A in the best-of-three seated volleyball competition, led in part by the strong serving of Staff Sgt. Richard Johnson, sealed the overall Commander’s Cup victory for Company C.
Johnson, whose right shoulder was initially injured in Kosovo and later aggravated in Iraq when his squad’s convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, said playing sports, despite the injuries, helps keep the competitive spirit alive.
“It goes to show the fight left in these guys,” said Johnson. The 13-year Army veteran said he hopes if the Army deems him unfit for duty, it will allow him to stay in uniform as part of the WTU cadre so he can help other soldiers.
Sgt. Kendra Vining, playing with the Vilseck-based Company D, is battling lower back pain and appreciated the chance to play a form of basketball, a sport she played for her former community college team in Montana.
“When you’re injured, you sit around and think about it and it drives you crazy,” Vining said. “Out here, we’re having fun.”
Other competitors see the events, supported by Morale, Welfare and Recreation and funded in large part by donations from the Wounded Warrior Project and the American Red Cross, as a chance to prepare them for life outside the military.
Said Staff Sgt. Joseph Walker with Company A: “Stuff like this is key; it prepares you for the competitive side of civilian life.”
Commander’s Cup results
Company C: Schweinfurt, Bamberg, Katterbach, Illesheim
Company A: Kaiserslautern (Kleber), Stuttgart, Wiesbaden, Heidelberg
Company D: Vilseck, Vicenza (did not participate in the final two events)
Final team scores
1) Company C – 14
2) Company A – 11
3) Company D – 5
Wheelchair basketball results
Company C – 14 Company A – 4
Company C – 26 Company D – 8
Company A – 24 Company D – 0
Seated volleyball results
Company C def. Company A 25-22, 25-22
Company C def. Company D 25-17, 25-15
Company A def. Company D 25-13, 25-12
Winners from earlier competitions
Team marathon relay – Company A
Cycling – Company C
Archery – Company C
— Mark Patton