The decision to don a uniform and serve in the armed forces is one of the most significant decisions a young American can make. The men and women of the United States military make sacrifices and put their lives on the line every day in defense of our freedoms. This week, we honor three wounded Coast Guard veterans who continue to represent their country on a different field of battle – competitive sports. Next week, Lt. Sancho Johnson, Chief Petty Officer Christopher Shunk and Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Bell will represent the Coast Guard in the 2nd annual Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Johnson, Shunk and Bell will be among 200 wounded warriors representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The Warrior Games serve as a way for all of us to recognize and honor their service but they are also a critical part of the healing process for these brave Americans.
“We all enjoy a little friendly competition, but the Warrior Games are about so much more – the strength it takes to get back up is immense and recovery is not a cake walk,” said Bell during this week’s training camp for the Navy/Coast Guard team. “Our ill and injured service members need to see that life isn’t over because of our injuries, and with a little adaptation, we can still accomplish absolutely amazing things.”
Despite suffering a massive stroke that left the right side of his body paralyzed while serving at Coast Guard Sector Detroit, Bell worked his way through a year-and-a-half rehabilitation to regain the ability to walk, talk, eat and do so many of the things we all take for granted. Bell was so inspired by the doctors, therapists and his fellow injured veterans that he decided to go back to school and is pursuing an advanced degree in rehabilitation counseling.
Shunk had just made chief petty officer when a fall caused a traumatic brain injury and ended his service with the Coast Guard but it hasn’t dampened his spirits. Shunk fondly recalls his time in uniform and knows his years of service continue to make a difference in his own recovery today.
“[As a search and rescue controller], I would get information about someone having the worst day of their life,” said Shunk. “It was my responsibility to come up with the best effort to help that situation come to a positive ending.”
Johnson spent 15 years in the Coast Guard before an accident while on liberty in St. Thomas left him paralyzed when the bus he was on rolled and threw him from the vehicle. Johnson has gone on to not only represent the Coast Guard in the Warrior Games but he also serves as a motivational speaker where he champions the concept of servant leadership in hopes of inspiring others to be their best.
“Our Coast Guard team members are small in numbers, but they are big in heart,” said former Navy Master Chief Petty Officer James Wilson, a co-captain of Team Navy/Coast Guard. “These guys don’t know the meaning of quit. I could not ask for more professional, engaged team members.”
Team Navy/Coast Guard is sponsored by Navy Safe Harbor, the lead organization for coordinating the non-medical care of wounded, ill and injured Sailors, Coast guardsmen and their families. Through proactive leadership, Safe Harbor provides a lifetime of individually tailored assistance designed to optimize the success of enrollees’ recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration activities. Click here to learn more about Navy Safe Harbor.