Having helped more than 66,000 men and women in the armed forces and counting, the Wounded Warrior Project helps pave a path of recovery for our troops.

Last March, a man in his mid-20s arrived in Hawaiʻi from Tennessee to participate in a weeklong, multi-sport tournament, where he competed in discus, shot put and volleyball. He did all of this, though, seated in his wheelchair.

A retired sonar tech with the United States Navy, the man had lost both of his legs while on duty.

The competition, Wounded Warrior Pacific Trials, brought together active-duty and retired service members to participate in a range of adaptive athletics.

“He was absolutely the most positive kid I had ever met,” says Senior Chief Dean Howell of the man. “He acted like nothing was even wrong.”

He wowed the audience, taking second place in both discus and shot put.

“The discus and the shot put were great,” Howell says, “but I think, for me, it was more about the fact that he’s wheelchair-bound but he didn’t see this as something he couldn’t overcome.”

That’s the sentiment Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) sought to cultivate when it was founded in 2005. Conceived during war, as thousands of troops from all branches of the military were shipped out to battle, WWP wanted to ensure that wounded service members would be able to have a healthy, full life when they returned.

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Adaptive sports through Wounded Warrior Project include wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball, swimming, cycling, archery, riflery and track and field (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Diana Quinlan).

“Inevitably, when a [service member] has a serious illness or injury, they are going to have a multitude of other needs that are non-medical in nature,” explains Howell, active-duty director of the Navy WWP HawaiÊ»i regional office.

WWP serves both active-duty service members and veterans with physical or mental wounds or illnesses that occurred after Sept. 11, 2001. It’s estimated that more than 48,000 service members have been injured in military conflicts since that date. As of March, WWP has served 66,622 servicemen and women, along with 10,062 of their family members.

Wounded Warrior programs across the country offer a range of services that address the multi-faceted issues that service members face. Locally, in addition to the Navy, there are WWP programs run by each branch of military service. While there may be similar services available in the civilian world, WWP has created a nuanced treatment approach.

“The demographic of the individuals [who] we work with have more extenuating circumstances,” explains United States Marine Corps U.S. Maj. Ian Brooks, Officer in Charge, Wounded Warrior Battalion West. “We normally have Marines who have multiple issues—PTSD, physical problems. The benefit of our program is that we will identify and help them engage in the right service, either clinical … or we will find therapy for them.”

Hawaiʻi chapters connect Wounded Warriors with counseling and mentorship services. The national chapter of WWP also offers a Combat Stress Recovery Program, which includes outdoor rehabilitative retreat called Project Odyssey. WWP also can connect its members with mental health services.

Adaptive sports through WWP include wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball, swimming, cycling, archery, riflery and track and field.

Nationally, WWP also focuses on economic empowerment, which includes career guidance, a 12-month education and holistic wellness program, and training in information technology. WWP also helps wounded soldiers transition into life after service.

“We try to help them make their transition out of the Marine Corps as smoothly as possible,” Brooks says.

“Our commitment is a lifelong commitment to these sailors and Coastguardsmen once they’re enrolled in our program,” Howell says.

As Howell explains, transitioning back to civilian life is tough enough for any service member. “Throw a serious injury or illness in, and it becomes exponentially harder,” he says. “We want to make sure that, when they leave service, that they have the tools that they need to be outstanding members of society—because what is what veterans are, whether they are wounded, or whether they are fully up and around when they get out.”

WWP not only supports service members and veterans, but it also extends help to their families and caregivers, providing counseling and peer-to-peer support.

“This is all with the idea that our caregivers have the same support that our active-duty Wounded Warriors do,” Howell says.

Working for years as a personnel specialist in the Navy, Howell has seen firsthand the difficulties that service members face when injured or diagnosed with an illness. But he also has seen the positive impact WWP can have.

“We want to make sure that our [service members] who have these significant challenges in their lives know they have somebody they can turn to,” Howell says.

For more information about Wounded Warriors, call 877.TEAM.WWP (832-6997), or visit woundedwarriorproject.org.