In 2005, former Marine and now-retired Army Sergeant Joseph “Joey” C. Smith lay in a Veterans Affairs hospital, wracked with pain. He watched other wounded veterans around him suffering, many despondent and without hope.
He was at the lowest point in his life.
A year earlier, he had been at a remote forward operating base in Afghanistan on his fourth deployment when he was injured. He was working alongside Afghan soldiers around some storage containers. He said two of the Afghans climbed onto the roof of one of the containers and intentionally pushed another container on top of him.
For the next four years, he transferred among multiple hospitals where he underwent three surgeries on his spinal cord, as well as one on his leg. Doctors told him he was lucky to be alive.
He also lost the use of his voice for those four years, but using pen and paper, he wrote just a few words that he said helped to inspire other wounded warriors in that hospital as well as himself.
The Marine Corps later adopted what he wrote as their own “Creed of the Wounded Warrior,” and the words quickly spread, inspiring countless others.
“Though I am wounded, I will always be a warrior. I will never give up, nor quit in the face of adversity. I will do my best in all that I do and achieve. I will not allow my injuries to limit me, and most of all, I will never forget my fallen comrades or leave a fellow injured warrior behind,” reads the creed.
That such a simple message as this inspired so many is amazing, he said.
Following his hospitalization, Smith followed his creed to “do my best in all that I do and achieve” by entering the 2010 Warrior Games, the first year of that competition. He competed in shooting, swimming, cycling and archery. At the games, the athletes are all wounded, ill or injured veterans and service members.
Smith has returned every year since and this week he’s competing in the shooting and swimming events at the Olympic Training Center and U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
He said the intense interservice and interpersonal rivalries really motivate the athletes, but “at the end of the day, it’s one team, one fight,” meaning that they are all friends who are helping each other through the healing process.
Things have been looking up for Smith, who said he plans to return to the games in the future.
In 2010, he and his wife, Debbi, received a special gift. Homes for Our Heroes, a nonprofit organization, donated a wheelchair-accessible home for them in Thomasville, N.C. He said words can’t describe how much that meant to them.
During the competitions this week, some 400 members of the media from around the world are covering the games, outnumbering the athletes nearly 2 to 1.
Smith said he thinks that is “awesome” and that he hopes the media will get the word out to the world about what it means to be a wounded warrior and how they are all trying hard to rebuild their lives, assisting one another, despite the suffering they have endured.
NATO’s focus will remain squarely on Afghanistan as Air Force General Philip Breedlove succeeds Navy Admiral James Stavridis as the alliance’s supreme allied commander, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday.
On a cool, windy day in Mons, Belgium, Rasmussen passed the colors of Supreme Allied Command Operations from Stavridis to Breedlove. Rain threatened, but never materialized.
NATO is the heart and soul of the 50-nation coalition in Afghanistan, the secretary general said, and the alliance has been involved since the formation of the International Security Assistance Force.
“On your watch,” he said to Breedlove, “Afghan forces will be taking full responsibility for the security of their own country, and ISAF will complete its combat mission–as planned–at the end of 2014. You will help shape a new and NATO-led mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces after 2014.”
But the alliance is more than the war in Afghanistan, Rasmussen noted. NATO forces also serve off the Horn of Africa to deter piracy, patrol the Mediterranean Sea, serve in Kosovo and patrol the Baltic Sea. NATO forces deployed to Turkey are protecting that ally from Syrian missiles, he said.
These are demanding operational tasks, the secretary general said, but Breedlove also must complete the reform of NATO’s command structure to make it “leaner, more effective and more affordable.” Rasmussen expressed confidence in Breedlove’s ability to meet the challenge.
The secretary general then turned to Stavridis, the first admiral to hold the position. Rasmussen said the Stavridis “has navigated these uncharted waters with great skill.”
Rasmussen said the secret of the admiral’s success lies with his philosophy that the security of the future should be built by bridges, rather than walls. In Afghanistan, Stavridis built bridges among NATO allies, coalition partners and the Afghan government, he said.
“Your bridge-building skills were also evident in 2011 when NATO responded to a United Nations call and deployed a force in record time to protect the people of Libya,” Rasmussen said. “You have also stayed focused on the strategic horizon and NATO and [Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe] have benefited from your innovation.”
During his time at the headquarters, Stavridis established a comprehensive crisis management center and an alliance special operations headquarters. And he has reached out, Rasmussen said.
“You have blogged and you have tweeted to help explain the value of our alliance and to sustain political and public support for what we do,” the secretary general said to the admiral.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Rasmussen presented Stavridis with the NATO Meritorious Service Medal. The admiral will retire from the Navy and become the dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.
The Department of Defense Education Activity’s Teacher of the Year, along with other National Teacher of the Year finalists, spent a week touring the nation’s capital recently, a visit that included a chance to meet President Barack Obama at the White House.
Daniele Massey, an Algebra I teacher at Vilsek High School in Germany since 2007, was nominated by 15 of her colleagues and three parents.
“That surprised me the most,” she said of the parents, whose children were not her students, but needed tutoring. “They needed the help, and I was willing to give it to them. But that’s what people do. I felt like I was just doing my job.”
Massey also was recognized for her approach to teaching.
“For me, it’s making a very intentional connection with my students and their families,” she said. “I really try to create a partnership. I try to make algebra meaningful to the students.”
Massey uses what she called a “flipped classroom.” Rather than the traditional lecture during class time, Massey and a colleague produce lectures on a website for students as homework, she said. In the classroom, students work on algebra problems with Massey close at hand to help as needed.
Massey said the technique works well for students and teachers who were frustrated with the traditional learning process.
“We really promote it,” she said. “I try to make algebra based on real-life problems,” she said, adding that her teaching system also allows her to fill in gaps with military students who moved to Vilsek in the middle of the year and might need to catch up.
Massey also brings in service members to her classroom to mentor students. The service members’ influence, she explained, is especially helpful for students who “need an extra boost academically, and might need help with life skills and goal setting.”
While in Washington for a week, Massey and the other finalists toured the city and visited memorials, museums, the Pentagon, DODEA headquarters and the home of vice president at the Naval Observatory.
“I kept thinking, ‘This is where everything happens,” she said. Her husband, Army Major Adrian Massey, with the Army's 69th Signal Battalion in Grafenwohr, Germany, was able to come along with her.
The highlight of her trip, she said, was going to the White House on April 23, meeting the president and receiving her award from him. She also got a presidential coin for her husband.
“Going to the White House was very humbling,” Massey said.
Massey was among 54 finalists on the trip, one each from every state, DODEA, the North Marian Islands, American Samoa, and the District of Columbia. Jeff Charbonneau of Zillah, Wash., was honored as National Teacher of the Year at the White House ceremony.
Now in its 63rd year, the Teacher of the Year competition is sponsored by Council of Chief State School Officers and the Education Department. DODEA manages schools for military children and teens who live overseas or at U.S. military bases in the United States that have schools in the system. It also supports some 1 million military-related students who attend U.S. public schools.
Lt. Dennis W. Peterson of Huntington Park, California, was the pilot of an SH-3A helicopter that crashed in Ha Nam Province, North Vietnam.
Peterson was accounted for on March 30, 2012. Also aboard the aircraft were Ensign Donald P. Frye of Los Angeles; Petty Officers 2nd Class William B. Jackson of Stockdale, Texas; and Donald P. McGrane of Waverly, Iowa.
The crew was interred in its final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery.
Taking care of our sailors and taking care of our family members is important today, just as it was back in 1967," said Commander Anthony Roach, former commander of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12, which was HS-2 during the Vietnam War. "We could not do what we do without the legacy that they have built for us and we just wanted to show them how important it is to us that they are not forgotten in any way, shape or fashion."
The crew was lost July 19, 1967, when their SH-3A Sea King helicopter was shot down during an attempted rescue of a fellow downed aviator.
For their actions, the crew was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart. Peterson was awarded the Silver Star.
"He deserved it. I don't know how else to say it," said Kirsten Peterson, the lieutenant’s daughter. "He gave the ultimate sacrifice. We sacrificed. His grandkids sacrificed, so it was overdue. Full honors means a lot."