Teams compete in wheelchair basketball battle

Retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Larry Franklin dribbles the ball down the court. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Brennan Knaresboro)

01/17/14 12:00 AM

by MC3 Brennan Knaresboro, U.S. PACOM Joint Intelligence Operations Center

The Navy and Coast Guard Team beat the Air Force in the third exhibition game of the Wounded Warrior Pacific Invitational (WWPI) wheelchair basketball competition Jan. 9 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Fitness Center.

After two periods of nonstop action, the bleachers were full of service members at the edge of their seats until the warriors of the Navy and Coast Guard Team secured victory in the last 22 seconds with a final score of 24-21.

The Navy and Coast Guard Team consisted of 10 service members, all with different injuries and illnesses. Retired Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician 1st Class John Kremer played as the point guard and made multiple passes and decisions in the plays that were vital in the team’s victory.

“I was just doing my best and I was focused on the game,” Kremer said. “I was lucky to be playing with such a great group of motivated players.”

This is Kremer’s third year participating in the WWPI. He commented that he enjoys the opportunity the program offers to bring warriors together.

“At the end, it is not about the game’s outcome,” Kremer said. “It is about the camaraderie and having us come together and work with one another.”

The Navy and Coast Guard Team was lead by Mo Philips, Jr., the head coach. He was also the head coach of the men’s paralympics basketball team and has extensive experience working with athletes of physical disabilities.

“Being involved with the Wounded Warrior Project is very personal to me,” Philips said. “It’s not about the game or the competition. It’s about helping these players transition into a new life.”

Philips is a 40-year veteran of the sport and holds a position in the National Wheelchair Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. He has six national championships as a coach and numerous more as a player.

“Out of all 40 years of playing and participating in the Wounded Warrior Project, this is my greatest personal experience. None of my awards can compare to what we achieve here,” Philips said.

Megan Haydel, a staff member for Navy Safe Harbor, was in attendance at the game and said the game was one of the most electrifying matches to watch.

“This was the pinnacle of all the activities for this year’s WWPI,” Haydel said. “This is the first time the Navy won every single basketball game.”

Events like this bring more awareness about wounded warriors to people who are unaware of service members with seriously wounded conditions and their ability to overcome their injuries, Kremer said.

“This is a great outlet for wounded veterans with injuries or illness to be a part of some kind of community,” Kremer said. “An invitational like this allows local communities and commands from all branches of the military to come together and learn about the Wounded Warrior Project.”

In 2012, the first Wounded Warrior Pacific Invitational was hosted by Commander, Navy Installations Command N95 headquarters (Safe Harbor) and Navy Region Hawaii.

Safe Harbor is the Navy’s organization for coordinating the non-medical care of seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen and providing resources and support to their families. Through proactive leadership, the program provides individually tailored assistance designed to optimize the success of the shipmates’ recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration activities.

Navy Wounded Warrior’s goal is to return Sailors and Coast Guardsmen to duty and when that is not possible, the program works collaboratively with federal agencies and local organizations to ensure a service member’s successful rein-tegration back into their family.

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