'Immensely Proud' Carter Salutes 2016 Military Olympians, Paralympians
Defense Secretary Ash Carter today saluted the 2016 active duty Olympians and Paralympians, praising their contributions to the nation in both athletics and military service.
"I'm immensely proud of everything that all of you have accomplished, and everything you will accomplish in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, in our military and long into the future," Carter said at the event in the Pentagon courtyard, with many of the athletes in attendance.
He thanked Army Secretary Eric Fanning; Air Force Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, Air Force vice chief of staff and Air Staff chief; and John Register of the United States Olympic Committee for their participation in the recognition ceremony as well.
'Couldn't Be Prouder'
Sixteen Olympians, four Paralympians and three coaches represented the Defense Department at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Carter pointed out, adding the athletes brought home four medals.
The athletes gave the same dedication, hard work and skill to their athletic endeavors that they bring to the armed forces, Carter said. "And for that, I couldn't be prouder, or cheer louder," he added.
They are defending the country, the noblest thing a person can do, he said. Some are new to the military, while some have served around the globe, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. Each athlete, he added, makes the nation stronger and safer every day.
In addition, the athletes are helping the Defense Department "build bridges" with communities in America that are not as connected to the military as they had been, as fewer Americans are serving, the defense chief said. Carter made special mention of Army Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Eller, who made his fifth Olympic appearance; Air Force 1st Lt. Cale Simmons, a pole vaulter; Marine Corps 2nd Lt. David Higgins, who shot in the prone rifle event and will start the Marine Corps Basic School this fall; and Navy Midshipman 4th Class Regine Tugade, who was the first Naval Academy plebe to compete.
He noted that Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks broke a world record in the 100-meter backstroke, winning gold in her Paralympic debut. She also took home a bronze.
In addition, he said, 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks of the Army Reserve, a pole vaulter, stopped suddenly as he was sprinting toward the crossbar in the preliminary round so he could stand at attention as the national anthem played elsewhere in the stadium.
"With that simple act, he made us proud, and when he later won the bronze medal, he made us all cheer as well," Carter said. "But in doing so, Sam also reminded everyone watching that these Olympians, Paralympians and coaches never stop being members of Team DoD."
Kendricks, who is currently assigned to training at Fort Lee, Virginia, told DoD News he was intently focused on his run and didn't realize Team USA shot putter Michelle Carter was about to be awarded her gold medal. Then he heard the first notes of the anthem, he recalled.
"Immediately, my training kicks in. I stop. I try to find the nearest rising flag and didn’t realize I was on camera at all," he said.
He is a soldier first, he said. "I think it was a moment that any serviceman or woman would have done the same," he added. "I was just the guy on the track at that moment."
For Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Guzman, the boxing team coach, Rio marked his second Olympics. He was on the coaching staff in the 2012 Olympics in London.
"To be in Rio in back-to-back Olympics, it's just a tremendous honor, and I was able to represent the Army World Class Athlete Program," he told DoD News after the event.
It is the "best of both worlds," the cargo specialist from Fort Carson, Colorado, explained.
"I get to represent all my brothers and sisters in arms, and then not only that, but I get to represent the United States, my family, friends and everything from back home, so it's just a tremendous honor to represent both sides," he said.
The 2016 military athletes and team coaches are:
Army Sgt. Nathaniel Schrimsher (modern pentathlon)
Navy Lt. Edward King (rowing)
Marine 2nd Lt. David Higgins (50-meter prone rifle)
Army Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson (pistol)
Army Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Eller (shotgun double trap)
Army Sgt. 1st Class Josh Richmond (shotgun double trap)
Army Sgt. 1st Class Mike McPhail (men's 50-meter prone rifle)
Army Spc. Dan Lowe (men's air rifle)
Air Force 1st. Lt. Cale Simmons (pole vault)
Army 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks (bronze medal, pole vault)
Army Staff Sgt. John Nunn (race walking)
Army Spc. Leonard Korir (10,000-meter run)
Army Spc. Shadrack Kipchirchir (10,000-meter run)
Army Spc. Paul Chelimo (silver medal, 5,000-meter run)
Army Spc. Hillary Bor (3,000-meter steeplechase)
Midshipman (U.S. Naval Academy) Regine Tugade (100-meter dash)
Army Staff Sgt. Michael Lukow (archery, recurve bow)
Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks (swimming, gold and bronze medal, 100-meter breast stroke)
Army Staff Sgt. John Joss (shooting)
Army Sgt. 1st Class Shaun Tichenor
Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Guzman (boxing team coach)
Army Capt. Andrew Locke (rugby team coach)
Army Staff Sgt. Dennis Bowsher (modern pentathlon team coach)
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)