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Selfless act yields intrinsic reward

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alex Mercer
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
The pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow. - Unknown

How do you heal through sports? Maj. Joseph Williams, 27th Special Operations Medical Operations Squadron clinical medicine flight commander, would say it is extremely therapeutic; and as the passionate medic would tell you, helping others has provided him with what he felt was missing in his life.

"For the past few years, I have been thinking of how I wanted and needed to get involved with something bigger than myself; something I was passionate about and could incorporate my professional training into," he stated. "I have always loved cycling... and that was a start. During a medical group training day, it all hit me when Ellen Saccoia-Smith from our Airman & Family Readiness Center was briefing about the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program. My mind started racing when Ellen mentioned the sports piece of AFW2; one thought led to another and before I knew it I was thinking 'who do I need to speak with to get involved with the adaptive cycling program within AFW2'. Ellen provided me with a phone number to the AFW2 offices in San Antonio and I was off on my search."

The AFW2 program works hand-in-hand with the Air Force Survivor Assistance Program and A&FRCs to ensure Airmen receive professional support and care from any point of injury, through separation or retirement, for life. The program advocates for services on behalf of airmen; coordinates with closest A&FRCs to ensure wounded warriors receive face-to-face, personalized services; provides professional services such as transition, employment, moving, and financial assistance; assists with integrating Airmen and their families back into their local communities; connects Airmen and their families with the Joint Family Support Program in every state; and helps coordinate benefits counseling and services provided by the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Labor, Social Security Administration, TRICARE, and other helping agencies.

"I phoned the AFW2 office and made contact with Tony Jasso, AFW2 Adaptive Sports Program Manager," Williams stated. "I shared with Tony my passions, occupation and willingness to help out however I could. Tony was considering bringing me on-board, but first thought it would be good for me to speak with Cami Stock, Head Coach of AFW2 Sports. That same evening, Cami and I did speak and she invited me to be part of the team starting at the AF Trials at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. With fantastic support from my leadership, I was on my way to being part of something special...a coach and therapist on the AFW2 Team preparing for the Warrior Games."

The Warrior Games were created in 2010, as a competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans. More than 200 participated in the 2014 games. The event encompasses five U.S. teams representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations. Teams typically compete in seven sports, including archery, cycling, shooting, sitting-volleyball, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball.

"A few weeks before heading out to the trials I received an e-mail from Dr. Aaron Moffett, AFW2 program coordinator for Air Force Adaptive Sports and Associated Coach for the Warrior Games Team, to be part of the sports medicine team," said Williams. "I would help classify athletes into competitive categories for the games. All athletes must properly be entered into a competitive category that varies by sport. This essentially places everyone on equal ground and makes for an even and fair competition. Physical therapists are instrumental in this process, and as a subject-matter expert in range of motion and muscle testing, I was a perfect fit."

In previous years, the United States Olympic Committee not only ran the Warrior Games, but oversaw the entire classification process. This year, the Air Force, along with Moffett, Kallie Quinn and Heather Campbell from the Navy, took the lead for drafting all classification rules and guidelines for the DoD.

"I played a consulting role in the medical evaluation piece of this product in development--now a DoD-wide product," Williams stated. "The first few days at the trials were 13-15 hours long, geared toward evaluating athletes. Later that week however, I found myself not only acting as a cycling coach, but one day I vividly recall assisting in swim timing, treating 10 athletes and repairing 3 punctures during wheelchair basketball practice."

According to Williams, many athletes admitted they were reluctant to attend the trials and compete at all. Once they participated and saw others struggling through the same adversity however, the staff could see the bond between athletes and individual confidence growing. The athletes began to inspire one another, the staff and the coaches.

The 2015 Warrior Games will take place June 19-30 in Quantico, Virginia; a training camp will be held in April at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

"We will be developing coaching programs for the 40 athletes selected prior to the training camp leading up to the games," Williams said. "Building that athlete-coach relationship will be instrumental as we get the athletes to be at their best in just a few months."

"I have met some truly amazing people throughout this process," he continued. "The AFW2 staff are an amazing group of people...their dedication is unparalleled. I am fortunate to be surrounded by such great teammates. As for the athletes I came in contact with...they continue to inspire me. I look forward to paying back what my service has given me...GO TEAM AIR FORCE!"

For more information on the wounded warrior program, visit  

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