Warrior Spirit Revealed on First Day of Games

Despite his tire blowing out, Retired Navy Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Jim Castaneda pushed his way to the finish line

The Warrior Games kicked off Tuesday with five cycling events here at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Both the Army and Marine teams finished with six medals. Army with two gold, one silver and three bronze, and the Marines with two gold, three silver and one bronze.

But the day was clearly not about medals. It was about teamwork and the warrior spirit, prominently demonstrated by the sea services after a couple of their athletes encountered mechanical woes.

After the first run of the course, Retired Navy Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Jim Castaneda had his left tire blow out on his recumbent bicycle.

With miles left to go, Castaneda kept on pedaling and pushed to the finish line, with his coach and teammates cheering him on.  He could have stopped when the tire blew, but says he wanted to show his son, “We don’t quit.”

For his determination to succeed, Castaneda was selected as “Athlete of the Day” by the U.S. Paralympics Committee and is profiled on their website.

Earlier, a cable snapped on another athlete’s bike, and the Navy/Coast Guard team couldn’t fix it.

“We didn’t have the parts, we didn’t have a cable, and we didn’t have a mechanic there,” said Master Chief Will Wilson, the team’s cycling coach.  “So we rolled down to the Marine Corps cadre and without hesitation they jumped on it, got the parts, fixed the bike and got the kid in the race.”

“That says it all,” said Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Michael Barrett to the Commandant of the Marine Corps after hearing what happened. “We’re doing it right.”

“Those [medals] you see hanging from the table over there, that’s not Warrior Games,” said Wilson. “What just happened down there, fixing that bike—that’s Warrior Games.”

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– Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

The USO Family

Air Force Major Phil Ambard and his wife, Linda. Courtesy photo.

Air Force Major Phil Ambard was a family man.

“From the time he was a young Airman Basic through his commission as an officer 16 years later, he has been warmly greeted and taken care of at each USO,” said his wife of 23 years, Linda Ambard. “When we flew to Germany for the first time, we had five children under the age of ten, but we were made to feel like the USO was ours—that we were family.”

“This USO family has never meant more to me than when my Phil was killed in action on 27 April 2011.”

Her Phil was among eight Air Force officers shot and killed at Kabul International Airport by a 50-year-old Afghan Air Corps pilot.

Linda was left devastated and in a fog.

Their five children, including three Air Force Academy graduates and one who was attending West Point, flew to Dover Air Force Base from all around the world to meet their mother and repatriate the remains of their father.

The pain was so fresh; Linda couldn’t coordinate any of her own travel. She had trouble remembering the gates and felt dizzy navigating the crowds.

“At every single airport where there was a USO, we were each met by USO staff who walked us to our gate, brought us drinks, and who stayed with us the entire time,” she said. “They didn’t know us, yet they stood with each and every one of us.”

In Texas, while buying a magazine, she learned that all of her bank accounts had been frozen due to Phil’s death. The USO representative was quick to offer her some money, pay for her purchase and even spoke to the bank on her behalf.

“When we arrived at Dover, the USO came out with many volunteers,” said Linda. “Once again they had representatives for each of us. They allowed us to talk, make jokes—our family’s way of dealing with the stress—and they sat with me as I broke down yet again.”

Afterward, the family returned to Colorado Springs for the funeral.

“The USO ensured we were all seated together and near the front of the airplane,” she said. “This was no easy feat to get seven of us together, yet they did it for us.”

Eight months later, Linda knew that she couldn’t celebrate Christmas at home, so the family flew to Hawaii.  On the return trip, she and her cadet son spent 10 hours in the USO where their story eventually got out.

“The USO staff once again bent over backwards to make sure that we knew that people were walking with us and that we were still important to the USO family,” said Linda, “and I just want you to know that the USO was important to him and since his passing, the USO has meant so much to the Ambard and Short families.”

“He started as an immigrant boy,” she said, “but died as a man willing to stand up for the freedoms of all. He truly was an American hero.” — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer


Phil Ambard, 44, was born in Caracas, Venezuela. He didn’t speak a word of English when he moved to the United States at the age of 12. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the United States Air Force as an Airman Basic. He rose to the rank of Senior Master Sergeant (select) before he was commissioned as an officer and then rose to the rank of Major before he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.  He had recently graduated from Denver University with a Ph.D and his second master’s degree.

He is survived by his children Patrick, Emily, Alex, Tim and Josh, his daughter-in-law Karla and his wife Linda.

Warrior Games Wrap Up, but Their Impact Remains

Despite the competition, sailor and soldier refused to leave a fellow female soldier behind, crossing the finish line together at the 2010 Warrior Games. (Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/theUSO)

Competition may be over for the nearly 200 athletes who took part in the inaugural Warrior Games in Colorado, but their determined spirits continue to inspire.  From archery to swimming, basketball to volleyball, cycling to track and field, these athletes – representing all five branches of the military – showed that no injury or disability could diminish the desire to compete and succeed on the playing field and off.

And while rivalries among the branches were strong, a common sense of camaraderie pervaded every moment of the Games.  “Certainly, there were teams out there fighting for their colors, but I notice in every circumstance, when the competition ended, there were arms around each other,” Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, told the troops. “It was about how we competed as a team.”

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Hathorne accepts the Ultimate Champion award at the Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo. May 14, 2010. Hathorne scored two gold medals and a bronze at the games earning him the top honors. (DoD photo by Fred W. Baker III)

Here at the USO, we could not be more proud of these games and the athletes who competed to admirably.  And with talk of the second annual Warrior Games already underway, we’re excited what the future holds.  “How do you beat this place?” Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek told the Colorado Springs’ newspaper The Gazette. “It has been a terrific week. Having the magic and the history that emanates here, all the great American athletes that have trained here, it sparked the enthusiasm we’ve had. We’re very proud we can now add to that history.”

Congratulations to every participant, all of the winners (click here to see all results), and all of the staff, volunteers, and sponsors who made the inaugural Warrior Games such a tremendous success.  And finally, take a moment to check out last night’s “Making a Difference” segment on NBC News, a fitting tribute to our warrior athletes…

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Latest from the Warrior Games!

Air Force battles Navy during a match on May 11 at the 2010 Warrior Games. (USO Photo by Michael J. Pach / 3 Peaks Photography & Design)

The Air Force remains unbeaten in volleyball. The Marines dominated in archery. And the Army could bring home the gold in basketball. All in all, competition remains fierce at the inaugural Warrior Games in Colorado Springs. Can you feel the excitement?!

Check out the action from the last two days of competition below…

Sergio Lara returns a volley during a match with Army on May 11 at the 2010 Warrior Games. (USO Photo by Michael J. Pach / 3 Peaks Photography & Design)

Marine archer Justin Knowles loads an arrow into his bow during the May 12 archery competition at the 2010 Warrior Games. (USO photo by Michael J. Pach / 3 Peaks Photography & Design)

Swimmers take their marks during one of the preliminary heats on May 12 during the 2010 Warrior Games. (USO photo by Michael J. Pach / 3 Peaks Photography & Design)

Our First Pictures from the Warrior Games!

The Olympic torch is lit, signifying the opening of the 2010 Warrior Games, May 10, 2010. (USO Photo by Michael Pach)

The Warrior Games are well underway in Colorado Springs, CO, and we couldn’t be more proud of these amazing athletes!

As the first day of events wrapped up, the competition grew fierce, as the Marines gave a strong showing in wheelchair basketball and volleyball games showing no clear leader yet. Billy Demby, Marine Basketball Coach had this to say about his team’s first day on the hardwood:  “I think it this event is great and it is very much needed.  I think with this, the guys will leave the hospital and go home and be a good member of society and I think this will help them not only be physically able but mentally able as well, so I think all this plays a part.”

We’ll keep you updated on each day’s events!  In the meantime, enjoy a photo essay from the opening ceremonies…

Army passes the torch to players from the Marines team, the torch was relayed down the Olympic path by a representative of each warrior team, May 10, 2010. (USO Photo by Michael Pach)

USO President and CEO Sloan D. Gibson (L) and Chief of Paralympics Charlie Huebner (R) address the crowd during the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Warrior Games, May 10, 2010. (USO Photo by Michael Pach)

Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo mingles with service members and warrior athletes during the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Warrior Games, May 10, 2010. (USO Photo by Michael Pach)

NFL great and Hall of Famer Roger Staubach shares a private moment with one of the warrior athletes competing in the 2010 Warrior Games, May 10, 2010. (USO Photo by Michael Pach)

Warrior Games Get Off to a Great Start

Rolling Thunder motorcyclists raise an American Flag May 10, 2010, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., as part of the inaugural Warrior Games celebration. Members from various Rolling Thunder chapters transported the American Flag from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York to the Pentagon Memorial in Washington, D.C. then to the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pa., and to the Olympic Training Center. The Warrior Games takes place May 10-14 here for wounded servicemembers and disabled veterans to compete in paralympic-type events. (DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden)

From Fred Baker III, American Forces Press Service: “The ceremony began much as any typical military procession does – with troops called to formation.

Legendary former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach lights the ceremonial torch at the inaugural Warrior Games at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 10, 2010. Staubach is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and Vietnam veteran. Athletes from each of the services will compete in archery, cycling, basketball, shooting, swimming, track and field and volleyball during the week-long games.

“I need a four-man front. Give me a four-man front,” yelled a platoon leader.

The troops joked and shifted, jostling about and adjusting spacing.

“Everybody in this row right here, shift back one,” the leader called out.

The commands for uniformity kept coming, customary of getting a platoon ready to look its best.

“If you’ve got a water bottle, get rid of it!”

“Zippers should be zipped up to the writing on the jackets.”

But for all of the commands sounded, one stood out and marked the uniqueness of both the occasion and the troops who made up the ranks.

“If you’re in a wheelchair, move to the front.”

About 200 servicemembers marched down the center of the U.S. Olympic Training Center here yesterday before an enthusiastic crowd of local people, families and volunteers at the opening ceremony of the inaugural Warrior Games.” Click here to read the rest of the article and enjoy greetings and well wishes from a round the world for the athletes participating in the inaugural Warrior Games!