AFA Supports Team Air Force at the 2022 DOD Warrior Games

August 18, 2022   |   By Patrick Reardon

Warrior Games 2020


AFA Supports Team Air Force at the 2022 DOD Warrior Games

By Patrick Reardon

Every summer since 2010, hundreds of wounded, ill, and injured U.S. service members and veterans have met and competed in the Department of Defense Warrior Games. The Games consist of 13 adaptive sporting events—from archery and swimming to wheelchair basketball and indoor rowing—that serve to enhance the recovery and rehabilitation of our nation’s wounded warriors.

This year, 45 Airmen are representing Team Air Force at the Games in Orlando, Fla. While the Games are an opportunity for physical therapy and community, they represent much more for the Airmen who compete and their families who attend to cheer them on.

“It’s the most amazing sporting event I’ve ever been to,” said retired Tech. Sgt. Josh Smith, a wounded Airman participating in his fourth Warrior Games. “There’s just such a special spirit, a special connection here that you don’t get in the regular sports world.”

Smith sustained significant injuries in combat survival school that resulted in a bilateral-full hip replacement, elbow and shoulder surgery, degenerative spine disease, and degenerative arthritis in all of his major joints. Before he heard about the Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) program, he never thought he’d play sports again.

“Josh is a big sports guy,” said his wife and caregiver, Michelle. “When we [were told] he’d never play sports again, that crushed his soul.”

That’s when they found out about adaptive sports—specifically, that’s when they found out about AFW2 and the Warrior Games. With support from wounded warriors and AFA’s Wounded Airman Program, Josh went from thinking his athletic career had ended to competing in eight of the 13 events at the Warrior Games.

But because DOD funding is for Active-duty, Guard, and Reserve members, financial sponsorship for retired, veteran Airmen’s travel, lodging, and training has to come from somewhere else. That’s where AFA stepped in.

“Our local AFA chapters helped raise and fund money for Michelle and I and our family [to attend] the 2018 and the 2019 Warrior Games,” Josh said. He was one of 14 members of Team Air Force in 2019 whose travel was funded by AFA.

Tech. Sgt. Josh Smith (Ret.) and his six children pose with his DOD Warrior Games medals. Photo courtesy of Josh and Michelle Smith.

One of Josh’s teammates and close friends is retired Chief Master Sgt. Garrett Kuwada, who suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and spinal cord injury in 2016. The wounds left him with brain damage and limited motor functions, impairing his vision, hearing, speech, and balance—and the physical effects were only compounded by a corresponding mental hopelessness.

“I was at the end of my rope. I was done,” he said.

But after reluctantly attending a Warrior CARE event (a regional event hosted by AFW2 designed to connect wounded Airmen with a support system and recovery resources) and being invited to try out for adaptive sports, Garrett found a new hope, a new attitude, and a new lease on life. With support from his wife and caregiver, Joey, his coaches at AFW2, and his sponsors at AFA, Garrett attended his first Warrior Games in 2019 where he competed in 14 events, won 8 gold medals, 6 silver medals, and was named “Heart of the Team.” He was also selected by his fellow Airmen to bear the torch for Team Air Force at the Games’ opening ceremony.

“In the Air Force, only 1 percent get promoted to [chief master sergeant],” Garrett said, “and I was even happier about winning that ‘Heart of the Team’ award than when I got promoted to chief.”

Chief Master Sgt. Garrett Kuwada (Ret.) was named

The support, therapy, and community fostered at DOD Warrior Games by AFW2 and AFA’s Wounded Airman Program aren’t exclusively for service members. Caregivers of the athletes have an opportunity to find a common bond in their own sacrifices and struggles and receive care themselves.

“Before [our first] CARE event … I was thinking I was alone in my feelings,” said Joey Kuwada. “I was thinking to myself, how can anybody understand what I’m going through? So, at this CARE event, I’m meeting other caregivers, realizing I’m not alone—there are hundreds, if not thousands of caregivers who feel the exact same way. It’s just a weight off my shoulders.”

AFA’s Wounded Airman Program supports caregivers through resiliency training, rest and relaxation activities, financial management tools, and funding to be able to attend CARE events and the DOD Warrior Games with their Airmen. Their presence is the spirit behind the athletes’ motivations and drive to succeed.

“It’s not just us service members that make the team,” Josh said. “It’s a family affair. It positively impacts the entire family. When you see all of us come together at the Games, … it’s just incredible. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed or been a part of before.”

The opening ceremony for the DOD Warrior Games is on Aug. 19, and the Games will run through Aug. 28 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. The event is open to the public and can be streamed on ESPN+.