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Vice Chairman Praises 'Hidden Heroes' at Warrior Games Closing Ceremony

CHICAGO, July 9, 2017 — After a week of intense competition that yielded 1,101 medals for more than 90 events earned by athletes from the U.S. Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Army and Special Operations Command, as well as members of the United Kingdom Australian armed forces, the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games drew to a close here yesterday.

At last night's closing ceremony, Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recognized what he and other leaders called, the "hidden heroes" -- the family members, coaches and counselors for the athletes.

"I was watching a mother in the bleachers, and she was just riveted on the pool, and the look in her eyes and the pride and how she was carrying herself speak volumes about the hidden heroes," he said. He asked the family members to stand up to be recognized and said, "Thank you for all you do for us, for all of us who wear this uniform, because you are the people we do this for, and we wouldn't be here without you."

Selva also recognized the service dogs that have meant so much to many of the Warrior Games athletes. "I find them incredibly amazing," he said. "If I get a chance to get down on a knee and hug a service dog, you can bet I am there."

The vice chairman presented the ultimate champion awards, for which each service branch nominated a man and a woman who had competed in five sporting events. Medically retired Air Force Senior Airman Jamie Biviano earned the gold medal, medically retired Air Force Capt. Austin Williamson earned the silver medal, and Socom's medically retired Marine Corps Staff Sgt. John Stanz took home the bronze medal.

"The only goal I had set for myself before I came was to get a gold medal in cycling," Biviano said. "I got my gold. I was top eight in almost every sport. I've made lifelong friends in this program, and I feel like my whole team won it with me. I worked hard, and it paid off. We did this, my team, my blue family."

Biviano served as a security forces specialist, played several high school sports and competed at the national level in Taekwondo. She said the Warrior Games have made her feel like an "elite warrior" again.

Williamson, who is battling cancer, said he enjoyed himself even though it was a tough week as he competed while working through medical setbacks. "It was fun competing and great representing Team Air Force," he said. "There's more beyond whatever you're fighting with at the time. Life is still worth living and getting out and doing that despite whatever you're going through."

Master of Ceremonies

Actor and comedian Jon Stewart spent the week with the athletes at the various sporting events and hosted the opening and closing ceremonies. He thanked the athletes for welcoming him warmly and for the positive impact he hopes they had on his son, who attended the opening ceremony again this year.

The athletes surprised Stewart with an impromptu gift of a game ball from the gold medal sitting volleyball match, signed by the Navy and Army players, and a small, blow-up kangaroo from the Australian team.

"I promise you I won't sleep with one of these," he quipped. "This means a great deal to me, but please know one thing. I just want to say, from the bottom of my heart, you never have to thank me for being here. It is one of the great honors of my life to be able to share some time with you all and to have you warmly welcome me."

Host City

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said his city has the largest Junior ROTC program enrollment in the nation, with 12,500 students, and that Chicago is the only city in the United States to have every service branch's Junior ROTC program available.

Chicago was honored to host the first DoD Warrior Games to take place outside of a military base, the mayor said.

"It's a city where its football field is Soldier Field. Its two airports, O'Hare and Midway, have their own recognition in the armed services," he said. "Here, your sacrifice and selflessness isn't just recognized on Independence Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. It must be recognized every day. I want to thank you, because you exemplify the human spirit and its endurance and its greatness. It's been a tremendous honor for the city of Chicago to host these games. Congratulations to all of the athletes."

Navy Adm. Philip S. Davidson, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, thanked Chicago, the sponsors, and the family members, coaches, medical caregivers, counselors and friends of the athletes. "Thank you, hidden heroes, for your humanity and dedication; you give selflessly so that warriors can begin the long healing process," he said. "Thank you, warriors. You were an inspiration to watch in competition this week."

The commander of the 2017 DoD Warrior Games was Navy Vice Adm. Mary M. Jackson, commander of Navy Installations Command. Speaking at the closing ceremony, she said her voice was rough from cheering the athletes on all week.

"What an amazing week we've had," she said. "There was some stiff competition out there, the type of competition that has you at the edge of your seat, up and down, running around, biting your nails, cheering. There's nothing better than that -- watching driven, accomplished, tough athletes competing in world-class venues.

"You poured out your competitive spirit, your heart and soul, the pains and joys of recovery into Warrior Games 2017 here in Chicago, and Chicago welcomed you with open arms," she continued. "To our athletes, you are the reason we are here. Thank you for showing us the possibilities for getting to the other side of adversity. You've pushed your physical and mental limits and won, and now it is time to rejoice, regroup and recharge."

Passing the Torch

Jackson passed the torch to Lt. Gen. Gina M. Grosso, the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, who will head up the 2018 DoD Warrior Games.

"It's a tremendous honor for me to be able to take the torch on behalf of the United States Air Force," Grosso said. "Many congratulations to the Navy team on a phenomenal Warrior Games, and many thanks for letting my team go 'left seat, right seat' these past eight days, because there's no doubt you helped make 2018 just as good, if not a tiny bit better, than 2017.

"To our warriors and their families, you inspire all of us to be better warriors and citizens," she continued. "It's an honor to serve with you. We look forward to seeing all of you at the United States Air Force Academy in 2018."

Stewart couldn't help but add to the general's remarks in wrapping up the closing ceremony.

"Thanks everyone, I'm looking forward to next year's games," he said. "Get home safe and get some sleep, because Colorado Springs, they ain't got no oxygen. You're going to need it."

(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)
Distribution channels: Military Industry

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