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Reservist prepares for Warrior Games 2017

Tech. Sgt. Larry O'Neil and fellow wounded warriors compete in sitting volleyball at the Warrior Games trials in Las Vegas. (courtesy photo)

Tech. Sgt. Larry O'Neil and fellow wounded warriors compete in sitting volleyball at the Warrior Games trials in Las Vegas. (courtesy photo)

Tech. Sgt. Larry O'Neil, 920th Security Forces reservist, patrols in Iraq during a deployment in 2007. (courtesy photo)

Tech. Sgt. Larry O'Neil, 920th Security Forces reservist, patrols in Iraq during a deployment in 2007. (courtesy photo)

Tech. Sgt. Larry O'Neil showcases the medals he won during the 2017 Warrior Games trials in Las Vegas. (courtesy photo)

Tech. Sgt. Larry O'Neil showcases the medals he won during the 2017 Warrior Games trials in Las Vegas. (courtesy photo)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The U.S. has been at war for more than 15 years. For military members, this means more than 15 years of deployments. With war and deployments comes injuries; some are visible, some are not.

Regardless of the visibility of injuries, the Department of Defense Warrior Games is open to wounded warrior athletes. Tech. Sgt. Larry O’Neil’s wounds may not be physically evident, but he is proud to be representing the Air Force in this summer’s games.

Following a deployment to Iraq in 2007, O’Neil, a 920th Rescue Wing security forces reservist here, came home a changed man.

“I didn’t see an immediate change in myself, but my co-workers did,” O’Neil said. “My supervisor recommended I see a medical professional.”

O’Neil was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress among a few different injuries.

“I had the traditional response to medical care – I didn’t want these conditions to hurt my future in the military. I love my job,” O’Neil said.

Cue in the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program. This program is in place for airmen just like O’Neil who came home with injuries and aren’t sure of the steps to take to get the necessary care. The medical process can be long and convoluted, O’Neil said.

To start the process, a member is sent to an Air Force Recovery Care Coordinator. The RCC’s job is to be the single point of contact for Airmen and their families throughout their medical process.

Retired Army Col. Corinne Ritter, a former combat hospital commander, is representing O’Neil. She serves as an RCC for Patrick, MacDill Air Force Base and Florida Regions South.

“My Job is to help problem solve with the service member and be the go-between the member and medical care personnel,” Ritter said. “Each case is unique and different.”

As Ritter and O’Neil got to know each other and the details of his case, they formed a solid bond, keeping O’Neil’s family in the loop throughout his recovery process.

“Family involvement is an integral part of the program,” Ritter said.
With family support, the support of the 920th RQW, and that of the RCC, O’Neil was selected to go to a Wounded Warrior Program-sponsored adventure camp in 2015.

“I got there and immediately thought I wasn’t ‘wounded’ enough to be a part of this program,” O’Neil said. “I was surrounded by people who had missing limbs and other visible wounds.”

Ritter said the program is for wounded, ill and injured service members, not just those who have visible wounds on their bodies. In fact, not all participants in the Wounded Warrior Program have war-related injuries. Injuries stemming from car accidents, illnesses and trauma, among others, are all qualifying incidents.

“It was nice to speak to other wounded warriors during the meet-and-greet and find that common ground,” O’Neil said. Finding that common ground was a step toward recovery.

Through the Wounded Warrior Program, O’Neil learned about the Warrior Games. As a chance to showcase recovery, build camaraderie and encourage teamwork, the DOD established the Warrior Games in 2010.

O’Neil participated in the Warrior Games trials in Las Vegas and won medals in several events: gold medal in shot put, silver in discus, primary for sitting volleyball and an alternate for both prone rifle and wheelchair basketball. He was selected to compete in the 2017 Warrior Games in Chicago June 30 - July 8.

“I’m really excited to be a part of this program and the games,” O’Neil said. “I’m proudly going to represent the 920th Rescue Wing and bring back as much awareness of this program as I can.”

According to their website, the Warrior Games “provide an opportunity for athletes to grow physically, mentally and spiritually from the sportsmanship and camaraderie gained by representing their respective service teams in a friendly and spirited competition. It is an opportunity for athletes to showcase their enduring warrior spirit in the presence of their families and a grateful nation.”

“It’s not about winning,” O’Neil said. “It’s about recovery, and it’s a group effort.”

The wounded warrior teams include Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations Command service members and veterans with various injuries. They will engage in friendly competition in track and field, archery, cycling, sitting volleyball, shooting, swimming and wheelchair basketball.