The bullets start coming immediately. The American soldier squats atop a rocky hillside in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province, looking down into the valley stretched out below, trying to figure out where the shots are coming from. He fires his weapon into the valley, but that doesn’t slow the barrage of bullets coming at him. Where the soldier sits, there are no trees, nothing to crouch behind – nowhere to hide. Sitting exposed on a hillside isn’t a great place to be when people are shooting at you, so the soldier starts making his way into the valley, toward where the bullets are coming from.
Suddenly, the lights came up and someone pressed the pause button on the video clip. The soldier who recorded that video with a camera strapped to his chest did survive, we were told. But he certainly was never the same.
This was the start of the orientation session for volunteers at the Valor Games Southeast 2015, an annual regional athletic competition for disabled veterans and disabled members of the US Armed Forces held in May at venues in Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh. The event’s organizers showed the video to give volunteers an idea of what many in our Armed Forces experience in wartime – and how those experiences can shape the rest of their lives in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder and permanent disabilities.
Honoring a Competitive Spirit
Valor Games Southeast, organized by Durham-based nonprofit Bridge II Sports, offers events including air rifle shooting, boccia, sitting volleyball, cycling, archery, power lifting, shot put and other adaptive sports, with events held at Dean Smith Center at UNC Chapel Hill, Cameron Indoor Stadium and K-Ville at Duke University, and Lake Crabtree Park in Morrisville.
The Games aim to provide a channel for physical activity and to foster the unique camaraderie that military personnel share for a lifetime. Perhaps as importantly, the Games offer a chance for supportive community members and families to show their support for our Armed Forces through volunteering at the Games or simply cheering on the competitors.
A Journey of Recovery
“When we got involved with Valor Games Southeast in 2012, even some of our more recent veterans had been sitting idle at home for five years,” said Bridge II Sports Executive Director Ashley Thomas. “The question was, how can we draw them out? How do we get them engaged back into life? Because we know that when you come back home different from when you left, there is a journey of recovery that can be a tough road.”
Attending the Games was a humbling experience for me, in the most positive sense. Seeing the determination and competitive spirit of a veteran without a leg diving toward a volleyball impressed me as much as the courage shown by the soldier on that hillside in Afghanistan.