21 March 2013
SSGT Marfell, CPL Sturley, SGT Soper, WO2 Irving pose with NZ flag post open ceremony.
The New Zealand Defence Force may have had the smallest team but it made its presence felt at the US Marine Corps Wounded Warriors Trials held in California recently.
The Trials are the Paralympics for the US Marine Corps and were initially set up to select talented wounded, ill or injured personnel to train in the hope of representing the US Paralympics teams.
The trials have now been opened up to Allied nations to compete and the New Zealand Defence Force was there.
The NZ team was made up of Staff Sergeant Nick Marfell from Burnham, Sergeant Mark Soper from Trentham, and Corporal Jason Sturley from Linton.
WO2 John Irving from Trentham is a physical training instructor and acted as team manager, masseur, strapper and NZDF liaison between the various treatment facilities.
He said the games were considered an important part of a wounded soldier’s recovery process, "in that they show a once fit, active soldier that despite their current disability they can lead an active life and pursue and compete in activities at national and international level."
"The aim is not to give up and give in, but to strive and succeed even though one’s life path has taken a sudden and often traumatic turn.
"The help available to these athletes and soldiers both on base and back home in their own countries from medical, psychological, educational, sports therapy/rehabilitation, sports coaching, occupational therapy, family care and support groups was really encouraging. It was something that we in the NZDF can look to in the future," he said.
Eighty two international athletes from eight different nations competed with 213 US Marines, all of them wounded, injured or ill during operational service or training.
SGT Soper, who entered in cycling, archery and track events, said he got a lot out of the games, especially the shared experiences. The games, he discovered, were not just about people who had physical injuries sustained in combat.
"There were people there recovering from cancer, strokes, and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, as well as many who had suffered severe injuries in combat. It was good to meet them and compete with them. Many of those who took part had been training intensively for months. It was great just seeing the strength of human spirit."
SSGT Marfell's wheelchair basketball team won silver, after losing to their opponents only in the last four minutes of the game. CPL Sturley positioned well in the swimming and shooting, and SGT Soper came fourth in the 1500m event despite a significant thigh injury.
The athlete’s disabilities were broad. Poly trauma victims (those who have suffered injury to more than one body system), spinal cord injured personnel, amputees involving one, two or three limbs, burns victims, neurologically injured personnel, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), vision loss and blindness and hearing loss were just some of the injuries of the athletes.
For more information, contact Defence Communications Group on 021 487 980.
The US Marine Corps Trials
The Trials, hosted by the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, is a part of the Regiment’s ‘Warrior Athlete Reconditioning’ program which provides activities and opportunities for wounded, ill, and injured Marines to train as athletes. It works towards increasing their strength so they can continue with military service or develop healthy habits for life outside the service.
As well as competing, the NZ Defence Force team observed the soldier care processes in place with the US Marine Corps in order to improve the NZ Defence Force’s understanding of rehabilitation for injured soldiers.
The total number of athletes taking part this year is 295 of which 48 are US Marine Corps Veterans. There are 82 international athletes competing:
Australia = 11
Canada = 10
Columbia = 15
France = 11
Germany = 7
Netherlands = 12
New Zealand = 3
United Kingdom = 13
Staff Sergeant Nicholas (Nick) Marfell (Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment) lost total hearing in one ear whilst serving in Afghanistan as a result of an accident. He is competing in the open group of track athletics and field athletics and has been invited to compete in the US Marine’s wheelchair basketball and volleyball tournaments.
Sergeant Mark (Soaps) Soper (Royal New Zealand Air Force) was injured whilst serving in Afghanistan. He is competing in track athletics, compound bow archery, upright cycling and has been invited to compete in the US Marine’s wheelchair basketball and volleyball tournaments.
Corporal Jason (Jase) Sturley (Royal New Zealand Engineers) lost his left leg below the knee after injuring himself whilst serving in the Solomon Islands. He will be competing in swimming, air rifle, compound bow archery and has been invited to compete in the US Marine’s wheelchair basketball and volleyball tournaments.
Warrant Officer Class Two John Irving (New Zealand Physical Training Instructor Corps) is the Physical Training Advisor and Senior Rehabilitation Instructor for NZ Army. He is the team manager and will also liaise with the US Marine Corps in relation to their soldier care. He will also provide support to the games as a sports masseur and strapper.
The United States Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment
The United States Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment provides and facilitates non-medical care to combat and non-combat wounded, ill, and injured Marines, and sailors attached to or in direct support of Marine units and their family members in order to assist them as they return to duty or transition to civilian life. The Regimental Headquarters element, located in Quantico, Virginia, commands the operations of two Wounded Warrior Battalions located at Camp Pendleton, California, and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and multiple detachments in locations around the globe.