The Capitol was packed on an already busy Wednesday, but it wasn't because of the typical parade of tourists.
After touring the Capitol that morning, armed service members and veterans taking part in the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games were honored in a brief ceremony in Statuary Hall. “We have with us living proof of what it means to be an American," Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said in opening remarks, after welcoming the servicemembers and their families. "Because you show the world what is possible. You show the world what the human spirit can achieve, no matter the odds or the cost. You are our best, our toughest, and you make us proud."
Boehner was joined by a bipartisan group of leaders from the House and Senate, including members of the Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs committees, as well as General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose army background earned him cheers from the crowd. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work offered additional remarks.
Beyond the leaders from both chambers in attendance, Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Reps. Scott Rigell, R-Va.; Ryan Zinke, R-Mont.; Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine; and Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., among others, were there meeting servicemembers, posing for cameras and tweeting photos.
Poliquin stopped by to pose for a photo with former Army helicopter pilot Anthony Radetic. Partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair, the Alabama resident also met with Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., during his tour of the Capitol.
“My kids got to meet the senator as well. So they get to go back to school and tell the other classmates,” Radetic said with a laugh.
Retired Army Specialist Dustin Barr, an athlete in the games, met with Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., and brought his one-month-old baby along.
“We didn’t really get a chance to talk, but it was a good experience to meet him face to face and get pictures with him more than anything,” Barr said. “He was in a rush, but he was able to make time for us.”
This visit to the Capitol came on the Warriors' one day off from training and competing in the Warrior Games, an adaptive sports competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans. The games, which feature eight sports and an exhibition wheelchair rugby match, began on June 19. The closing ceremony is Sunday.
Formerly held in Colorado Springs, Colo., the event moved to the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia this year after the the Department of Defense took over as sponsor from the United States Olympic Committee. As a result of the switch, each year a different branch of the military will host the games and hold them on one of their bases.
"We have teams from each branch of service, along with the Special Operations Command," said Major Jill Wolf of the Marine Corps communications office and Warrior Games communications staff. "We’re also fortunate enough to have the British Armed Forces here with a team. So that makes 270 athletes and most of the athletes are here with their families."
The British participants were full of humor when asked about how they felt about their visit to the Capitol. One man quipped that “It’s nice — for a new building,” while another joked, “They had to do something after we trashed it the first time.”
Despite the jokes, the participants were grateful for the support they felt from Congress.
"It’s a good feeling to know that you have that kind of backing, that our nation's leaders are backing us in our recovery," said retired Army sergeant Sean Hook.
Army Reserve captain Joe Colon Jr. was happy the event acknowledged the struggles many of these servicemembers are facing.
"These games really are about those soldiers who haven’t been able to get over that hump," he said. "For those soldiers who just don’t understand or can’t grasp the reality of their 'new normal'. We’re their ambassadors, we’re their cheerleaders. By doing what we’re doing, we recognize that it's not about us, it's about us trying to get them to realize you can do this, too."
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