WEST POINT, N.Y., June 20, 2016 — Medically retired Army Staff Sgt. Fred Lewis of the U.S. Special Operations Command team grimaced when he felt a pop in his hamstring during the Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Military Academy here, but he sprinted along to finish his 200-meter race.
Since June 15, about 250 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command and United Kingdom armed forces have competed in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball. This year’s games end tomorrow.
Lewis earned a silver medal in the 100-meter competition before his injury. He iced his leg, took a ribbing from his teammates and tried to get back in for the 400-meter, but decided to sit it out so that he would be fresh for the shooting and sitting volleyball competitions.
Quick to smile and easily spotted by his long beard and mustache, Lewis said he was disappointed about the injury, but he enjoys being at the DoD Warrior Games.
“I feel I have no limits, and now I know I have a little bit of a limit, but I’ve been training to win, not just to compete,” he said. “I feel like I have that ability if I just put myself to it. Watching other guys with missing limbs do amazing things has made me feel like I shouldn’t feel so sorry for myself and just try a little harder.”
Call to Service
Lewis joined the Army to be a linguist and to carry on the family tradition. “My whole family was in the military,” he said. “My dad was in the Navy. My uncle and my brother were in the Army. My uncle was in the Navy. My family’s been serving in everything, actually, back to the Revolutionary War.”
His wife, Khara, joined the Army because both of her parents had been in the Army. “I was raised as a military brat, so it was always something I really wanted to do,” she said.
Khara served for two years in psychological operations. She met Fred, who served as a Green Beret for 14 years, at a joint special operations language school, where he was learning German and she was learning Tagalog.
“We met on a blind date, and that was pretty much it. I didn’t even propose to her. We just kind of got married,” he said.
“We just knew,” she said.
“We got married, what, two months after we met? We just knew right away,” he said.
“He tricked me into it,” she quipped. “I had no idea what was happening. I went on this date with him. I was like, ‘He’s kind of short, but he’s OK.’ Two months later, I was married and had no idea what was going on.”
Khara said her parents had warned her not to date a Ranger or Green Beret. “I really didn’t want to date a Green Beret; I tried to stay away,” she said. “I’m not dating these guys, but it happened anyways,” she joked affectionately with her husband.
His beard has been the biggest point of contention, they said. Khara said she doesn’t like it and has tried to dye it at night or shave it off, but their daughter, Emma, 9, stops her because she likes it.
“It’s fluffy, and I get to braid it,” she said.
“She’s got my back,” Fred said.
Lewis suffered three concussions during training and exercises throughout his time in service, and he has seizures and migraines from a traumatic brain injury from a combat injury he suffered in August 2008 in Afghanistan.
“I got shot in the helmet, and that’s the last concussion I got,” he said. “After that, I transitioned to the National Guard and started having seizures and migraines. I’ve also got tinnitus in one of my ears. My shoulder’s missing part of the clavicle. They had to take it out because it was broken off, and I have [post-traumatic stress disorder].”
When he got out of the military in 2009, Lewis said, he was put on a lot of medication and had issues with it, so he turned to farming and found it to be therapeutic. He said it helped him get off of his medication and opened the door to other outlets such as adaptive sports.
“I got invited out to the tryouts, and I’ve been hooked since then,” he said. “That was in February. The biggest thing for me was seeing guys who were worse off than me come up and now they had a totally positive outlook on life, and it’s just instant bonding with these guys. Ever since that first training, my entire life has shifted to health, nutrition, working out and getting ready for this. It’s giving me a purpose. It’s pretty cool.”
DoD Warrior Games
Lewis ran cross-country and track and was a wrestler in high school. He also wrestled for the Army until he was injured. He said competing in the DoD Warrior Games helps him feel like an athlete again. It’s even inspired his wife to try out for the team next year. He said he’s honored to represent the Socom team.
“It’s a huge honor for me, because I’ve missed serving and being in a unit. Having brothers and the possibility to represent them positively and just being here is a huge honor for me,” he said.
Lewis saluted the DoD Warrior Games.
“It’s changed my life, and I know that everybody here feels the same way,” he said. “It gives you something to hold onto when you have a hard time transitioning into the civilian world. The big problem we have as veterans is we tend to not want to ask for help and the further away we get from help, the harder life gets.”
Lewis added, “We need a purpose; we need something to drive toward and get better. That’s the biggest problem when you get out of the military. You don’t have anybody watching your back. This event, it changes our lives and gives us purpose. I’m injured, but next year I’ll be stronger.”
Khara said she’s proud of Fred.“I’m just so proud every time he’s doing an event. I’m just so excited,” she said. “I’m happy that my daughter’s here to be able to see him. I’m already thinking about next year, and how I want the rest of our kids to be able to come out and see what he’s doing, because it’s an inspiration to know what he’s gone through and just watching him be so determined. That’s just who he is anyways. He has a no-quit attitude. He’s always going to go beyond the best he can, and somehow he pulls it out and does better than he physically should be able to. I’m inspired by him every day.”