JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-Lackland, Texas --
Master Sgt. Benjamin Seekell, a 343rd Training Squadron security forces instructor, has come a long way since sustaining injuries while deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan back in 2011.
Seekell recently returned back to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland from the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games earning eight medals and received a warm welcome from a familiar face from his deployment: Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, commander of Air Education and Training Command.
During his deployment, Seekell, a military working dog handler, along with his dog, Charlie, were charged with installation security and route clearing of Bagram Airfield.
On the morning of May 8, 2011, Seekell and his team went out to do route clearances. They encountered two improvised explosive devices that detonated, seriously wounding Seekell.
“I remember being thrown up into the air, hitting the ground and being completely disoriented,” Seekell said. “The smell of smoke and dust and burning uniforms – it was an unforgettable experience.”
As the dust settled and he began to regain his bearing, Seekell’s military training kicked in as he made a mental note of his surroundings.
“I remember being really concerned about where my weapon was,” he said. “I also became painfully aware that Charlie wasn’t by my side and all I remember was shouting his name.
At the urging of a teammate who came to his aide, Seekell was finally able to relax upon hearing Charlie was safe. He then began to assess the state of his injuries.
“I had some pain in my lower extremities,” said Seekell. “I remember not wanting to look down in fear that I might not like what I see.”
The team was able to stop the bleeding and get him back to Bagram. That is where Seekell’s path first crossed with then Brig. Gen. Roberson, who pinned on Seekell’s Purple Heart.
“Seeing those individuals that understand where you have come from and where you are now in your recovery is such a personal experience,” Seekell said. “I have a shared history with him, one that many will not understand, and (I) will value that for the rest of my life.”
The relationship also means a great deal to Roberson.
"I am honored to serve with Ben and was humbled to present his Purple Heart back in 2011," said Roberson. "Seeing his successes, both as a competitor in the Wounded Warrior program and as a stellar senior noncommissioned officer, is beyond inspiring.”
Seekell has come a long way since that day that forever changed his life, recovering remarkably from his injury, and competing in his first Warrior Games in 2015 to earn two bronze medals.
The following year, Seekell qualified for and competed in the 2016 Invictus Games, garnering one gold and two silver medals.
As co-captain of the Air Force team for the 2017 Warrior Games, Seekell put in all the work required to excel in competition against the other services throughout the DOD.
Seekell’s hard work earned him a spot at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Canada this September. Selected for his superior performance and leadership, Seekell will represent the United States and compete alongside his DOD teammates.
Roberson believes Seekell’s strength and resilience makes him an excellent choice to represent the Air Force at the Invictus Games.
“His strength and resiliency during his recovery is a testament of his character,” said Roberson. “I am so excited to watch him dominate again at this year's Invicitus Games as he not only represents the Airmen of AETC, but the finest the United States has to offer."
Seekell says the key to his success in adaptive sports has been balancing all the challenges that come along with military life.
“It’s about finding the time and having the dedication to get out there and train,” said Seekell. “Even when you’ve had a hard day at work, or you have family obligations to balance.”
For Seekell, the hard work is not without reward or enjoyment.
“My time in adaptive sports, so far, has really helped me in my recovery and really set some horizons that I didn’t think were possible,” said Seekell.
“The camaraderie is really what brings the whole thing together for me,” he said. “There is really no other venue where you have all these warriors coming together where everyone truly understands you.”
In a lot of cases, wounded warriors are one-of-a-kind on military installations, Seekell imparted. People are often helpful and supportive, but finding a true understanding is something that is hard to come by.
“When we step out onto that field of competition, we relate to each other,” said Seekell. “We share in those successes and even those defeats sometimes. Everybody comes together to get through our shared adversity.”
Seekell also added that overcoming adversity, in his opinion, comes down to two choices.
“We are going to encounter adversity in our lives and what form that takes, no one can know,” said Seekell. “You can choose to be defined by your adversity, or to be defined by how you overcome it. Even when things get hard and there’s a lot of pain, you have got to stay after it.”
“When those odds are stacked against you, put the pedal on the floor, hit the gas and go.”