Staff Sgt. Brent C. Powell
Nearly 200 wounded, ill or injured service members from all service branches have gathered at the Air Force Academy to show their team and individual competitive spirits at the 2013 Warrior Games.
One of those warrior-athletes with his eyes on a gold medal this year is Spc. Jon B. Brancheau, an infantryman from Grand Rapids, Mich., currently assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Bliss, Texas.
Brancheau is attending the games for the first time this year and will be competing in two events: archery and air rifle shooting.
"I really want to win," he said, as a smile etched its way across his face.
Adding, "I want to bring a gold medal back to Fort Bliss as my way of showing my thanks for all the help and assistance they have given me."
His road to the games began in a remote region of Afghanistan in late February 2012. With little warning, a riot began outside his combat outpost and quickly became violent and deadly.
Before he could react, an enemy grenade landed and detonated less than four feet away, spraying him and nine others with deadly shrapnel.
"I didn’t know I was even hit at first," he said. "I began pulling one of my injured buddies to safety, and that’s when my legs began cramping up and I saw blood coming through my pants."
He was medically evacuated and spent the next few weeks receiving treatment for multiple shrapnel wounds and traumatic brain injury.
At his request, he returned to his unit and finished his combat tour before returning to the United States.
Once back on American soil, he was sent to the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Fort Bliss to begin the long road to recovery.
It was at the WTU that he first learned about the Warrior Games.
"My first day there I met with the adaptive sports coordinator," he said. "She asked if I could shoot, and I told her I could. She told me to grab an air rifle and start shooting."
Brancheau did and has been shooting ever since.
In August 2012, he traveled to Fort Benning, Ga., where he trained with the Army Marksmanship Unit.
"I’m extremely grateful for the training I received," he said. "It made me a much more capable marksman."
Since leaving the unit, he has attended every shooting clinic offered and now trains between two and five days a week.
He said training for the Warrior Games has helped him move forward in his life.
"When I was injured it broke me," he said.
Adding, "I thought my career was over, but the opportunity to compete here at such a high level has given me hope that I can be combat-effective again. It truly helps with the healing process and helps me feel normal again."
"He is a hell of a shot and a hard-core competitor," said T.J. Pemberton, archery coach for Team Army.
He added, "I think he has a real chance at a medal, and he will be one that we will definitely be watching."