COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. --
On Aug. 7, 2015 a complex attack was launched on Camp Integrity, a special operations forces facility in Kabul, Afghanistan. A vehicle laden with explosives detonated at an entry gate initially killing eight people. The detonation allowed enemy fighters to infiltrate the base.
Reacting to the attack, Army Master Sgt. George Vera, a 7th Special Forces Group Green Beret, ran to the scene and began to defend the base. With him was his best friend and fellow Green Beret Army 1st Sgt. Andrew McKenna.
“I was on a small base north of Kabul, the base came under attack and it was hit with a vehicle-borne IED at the front gate killing all the guards and opening up the gate. From there a few people along with myself formed a quick reaction force. We met the enemy at the gate. A few minutes later my best friend, 1st Sergeant Andrew McKenna showed up with four guys. We came up with a quick plan to fight these guys. Sadly, he (McKenna) was killed right away,” Vera said. “Another guy was also injured. We recovered both of them and from there we eliminated the enemy and secured the breach point. Then about an hour and a half later we didn’t realize that two guys were hiding on the base. Unfortunately, they opened up on me with small arms and machine guns and I was shot four times. From there it was a long road to where I am at today.”
Vera sustained two gunshot wounds to his legs and two to his back leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. His recovery journey took him from Landstuhl, Germany to Walter Reed in Maryland to treatment from Veterans Affairs hospitals and from the Stay in Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center founded by fellow Green Beret, retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Romulo “Romy” Camargo.
“It has been a long process, but I am getting better, and hopefully be back to work in several months,” said Vera.
Today, Vera is assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command’s Warrior Care Program (Care Coalition) whose mission is to provide special operations forces wounded, ill, or injured service members and their families advocacy after life changing events in order to navigate through recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration as quickly as possible, strengthening SOF readiness. They accomplish this through the four pillars of recovery, rehabilitation, reintegration, and career transition. Retention of the wounded warrior is always the goal.
An important part of the Care Coalition’s approach to recovery is the military adaptive sports program. The DoD understood the importance of the military adaptive sports program and created the DoD Warrior Games in 2010.
“The military adaptive sports program has helped me remain on active duty and it keeps me in shape, keeps me in the right frame of mind working with others, the team concept. I know for my job everything is about the team,” Vera said. “I will be competing in track and field, wheelchair basketball, swimming.”
The games introduce wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans to paralympic-style sports. Warrior Games showcases the resilient spirit of today’s wounded, ill or injured service members from all branches of the military. These athletes have overcome significant physical and behavioral injuries and prove that life can continue after becoming wounded, ill or injured.
“The best part about the Warrior Games is the camaraderie, the bonding with the other wounded warriors. We share a lot of the same issues and it’s good to meet people who are on your same level,” said Vera. “The other guys push you. I see the amputees running around the track, that guy is out there doing it, then I can do it too.”
The games are an important part of the recovery process, but an often unrecognized partner in the recovery process are the caregivers.
“My wife and daughter have inspired me the most. Particularly my wife because she has a lot on her plate. She keeps the house together, the family together, she’s the core,” said Vera. “She does a lot of things that were my role before I was injured. She’s the glue of the family and keeps us together.”
More than 250 U.S. military and international service members and veterans participate in the 2018 Warrior Games.