Keesler member is warrior games coach

  • Published
  • By Steve Pivnick
  • 81st Medical Group Public Affairs
Maj. (Dr.) James Bales is passionate about the Air Force Warrior Games and the participating athletes.

Bales, an orthopedic surgeon with the 81st Surgical Operations Squadron here, served as head coach for the Air Force 2012 Warrior Games team during the competition held April 30-May 5 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

A 2001 Air Force Academy graduate, Bales arrived at Keesler Air Force Base in November 2012 from Peterson AFB, Colo.

He almost naturally became a triathlete.

"I was a collegiate swimmer at the academy and have participated in many triathlons. In fact, I have a professional license in the sport. While I was in medical school and residency, I commuted 20 miles every day, either by cycling or running," Bales said.

Bales spent the past two years at Peterson participating in the Air Force World Class Athlete Program. The WCAP provides active duty, National Guard and Reserve Air Force personnel the opportunity to train and compete at national and international sports competitions with the ultimate goal of selection to the U.S. Olympic Team.

It was during this time Bales learned about the Warrior Games, which started in 2010. The games are designed to introduce ill, injured or wounded service members to Paralympics sports. The Air Force team is composed of 40 active-duty and reserve Airmen from across the country who still wish to represent the Air Force. Their injuries range from post-traumatic stress disorder to quadriplegia.

"There are about 6,000 Air Force wounded warriors and the Warrior Games are open to all of them," Bales explained.

An Air Force Wounded Warrior is any Airman who has an injury or illness that may require long-term care or a medical or physical evaluation board to determine fitness for duty.

"The 40-member team competes in seven Olympic-style sports: shooting, archery, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, swimming, cycling and track and field," he said.

Bales served as the upright-cycling coach during the 2011 games.

"Following the 2011 games, the Air Force Warrior Games staff came to me and asked me to be the head coach for the 2012 games. My triathlon experience was also a factor. I was honored to accept the post, especially since it combines my passions of medicine, coaching and athletics. I was able to blend my experience and areas of expertise to help service members," he said.

During the week of Jan. 28, Bales returns to Colorado Springs for the week-long selection camp.

"I'll look at the athletes as head coach and classify them based on the respective Warrior Games categories they qualify for. For instance, there are different amputee categories established by the type of amputation. Service members with other types of injuries such as spinal cord, traumatic brain injury and PTSD also participate in the games.

"Many athletes are multi-talented and enjoy all the sports, so I rely on my assistant coaches to help me decide which event the respective athlete can be of most benefit to the team. It's like a chess game as we determine where to place them," Bales said.

Initially, the athletes are brought to San Antonio for multiple adaptive sports programs to give them experience in the different sports. Then, over three separate one-week blocks, the potential team members are involved in steps leading to and participation in the actual competition.

Bales said, "The selection camp is Jan. 27 through Feb. 1 and all interested athletes attend and participate. The training camp, April 14-20, is an intense sport-specific training camp, for the 40-member Air Force Warrior team. Coaches are engaged with the athletes from January until mid-May while they're back at home to see how they are doing with their training plans. The final week is the actual week-long competition, the Olympic-style event held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and Air Force Academy, both in Colorado Springs."

The 2013 event is May 11-17.

"We are proud to host the Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and the Air Force Academy," said Charlie Huebner, USOC Chief of Paralympics. "Paralympic sport has a tremendously positive impact on individuals with physical disabilities, and the Warrior Games allow us to salute these fine young men and women who have served their countries honorably."

More than 200 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans are expected to participate in 2013. They will comprise five U.S. teams representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations, as well as one international team from the United Kingdom.

Bales added, "The Warrior Games is continually recruiting athletes. Anyone who thinks they might be eligible is encouraged to contact their recovery care coordinator or me. It's really a great privilege to work with these athletes."