As an Air Force crew chief in Afghanistan and Iraq, part of Sgt. Tim McDonough’s dangerous mission was recovering the remains of soldiers killed in combat.
An explosion in Afghanistan in 2005 changed his life. He suffered a brain injury, and nine surgeries later, McDonough has seizures, limited range of motion, and a host of other medical problems. Even worse, he lost the camaraderie he had with other airmen.
“You are the cream of the crop, the best of the best. You get injured and put off to the side,” said McDonough, 40, of Spokane, Washington.
But he has a new mission that has given him much-needed focus and self-esteem. He will represent the Air Force at the 2015 Department of Defense Wounded Warrior Games in Quantico, Virginia, next month.
His sport? Archery.
McDonough is one of about 200 athletes from the Air Force, Marines, Navy and Army who will compete in eight sports, including basketball, swimming and track and field.
He spends about two hours a day practicing for competitions and devotes much of his remaining time to counseling and encouraging fellow injured veterans. He said the common goal and comraderie of competition gives the veterans structure and purpose in their daily lives.
McDonough and dozens of other injured airmen gathered at Eglin Air Force base in the Florida Panhandle recently to prepare for the games and encourage other wounded veterans.
“I want to become the badass I used to be,” said retired Sgt. Justin Hughes, 38, another injured veteran who has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and other medical issues. The Vacaville, California, resident, practiced archery with McDonough.
Tino Uli, 30, sustained burns and other injuries during an explosion in Iraq where he did three tours of duty as a military police officer. Uli worked out with the Air Force's wheelchair basketball team.
“I lost my identity after the military. I felt lost. Being part of the Air Force Wounded Warrior program, it helps you to know that there is more to life than the military. I am proud of my service but I have more to accomplish,” the Las Vegas, Nevada, native said.
For Uli and other airmen, the goal is more than just participating in the games: They want to beat the Army, Navy and the Marines. Some members of the other service branches think the Air Force is an easy gig. During his service in Iraq, Uli said Marines and soldiers often joked that he was in the “Care Force.”
“We do more than sit in the back in an office job. We do it all,” he said.
Last year, the Army won the overall games.
Sgt. Brian Williams, 33, of Trenton, New Jersey, lost his leg in a 2012 bomb blast in Afghanistan. The Eglin camp was his introduction to adaptive sports. Williams hopes to represent the Air Force in at least one sport.
Before his injury, Williams excelled at many sports. Both through the camp, Williams said he reconnected with his passion for sports and his competitive nature.
“I can sit around and play video games, but I’d rather do this,” he said.