NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND, Calif. –
The crowd's cheers slowly fade into deafening silence as the line is readied. “The line is hot” is announced over the intercom signaling shooters to ready their rifles. He brings his weapon up to his shoulder and gently presses his cheek against the walnut hardwood stock. In this moment, the rifle is not an item that can be picked up and put down. It is a part of him, an extension of his body. With one click of the safety lever, the rifle is now ready to fire. He moves his firing finger to the trigger and squeezes with just enough pressure to release the projectile. Bullseye.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Adrian Spaulding, Air Force District of Washington commander support staff technician, participated in adaptive sports at the 2023 Department of Defense Warrior Games, June 11 and 12, 2023.
Spaulding grew up in New Castle, Delaware, amongst the colonial-era brick streets. After graduating high school, he left his hometown to pursue a college education. After a short while he realized that college wasn’t for him and checked out what the military had to offer.
“I’ve always wanted to serve,” said Spaulding. “I come from a military family and seeing the things they got to do made me think, hey, maybe that could be for me.''”
Spaulding reached out to a recruiter to start the process and in May of 2017, he shipped out to Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, to start his new career in the Air Force.
“Originally, I joined to be an intercontinental ballistic missile technician to work on the generators on the missiles, but I was unfortunately medically disqualified,” said Spaulding. “It actually worked out, though, because I love my job now.”
Upon graduating basic training, he was sent for a short stay at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, to complete technical training for his new job as a personnelist. After his 28 training days, he was assigned to his first duty station, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, to work in the Military Personnel Flight, where he learned the ropes of his new career.
While at his new duty station, he had the opportunity to try his hand at other jobs, both in and out of his normal career field. He was able to do a short time with the JBA Honor Guard, where he learned more about the value of attention to detail and the mission they execute. He also worked in the Installation Personnel Readiness office ensuring Airmen completed all deployment requirements before heading downrange.
Life in the military was going well for Spaulding. He was progressing in his career and growing as an individual. But in the blistering heat of August 2021, things took a turn.
“I was involved in an unfortunate motorcycle accident,” said Spaulding. “I was hospitalized for about two months and had rehab for a while after that at Walter Reed [National Military Medical Center] in Bethesda, Maryland.”
While splitting his time between his work as a personnelist and his rehabilitation appointments, he would often receive e-mails about resources available to active-duty members who suffered serious injuries. The only problem was that he didn’t know exactly what the resources entailed or how to get started, so they were pushed to the side.
“I was actually DJing for the Air Force Wounded Warrior team when they came to [Joint Base] Andrews and one of the representatives came up to me and said ‘Hey, have you seen our emails?’ I let him know I did but didn’t really read through them all. He told me he wanted me to actually read through it, apply and see what happens, so I did.”
That was all it took for Spaulding to begin his journey at Air Force Wounded Warrior. A little encouragement and conversation had convinced him this resource might be able to help him on his road to recovery. The personal, human testimony of what AFW2 was like held significantly more weight than an email ever could for him.
“After I applied and was accepted, I was introduced to adaptive sports,” said Spaulding. “I have always been a fit and healthy person and I wanted to get back to that level after my accident.”
While in the program, he got another email from the AFW2 team stating that something called the 'Wounded Warrior Trials' was going to be part of the Wounded Warrior adaptive sports team. This was exactly the thing he was looking to join -- sports with more rigorous training. This time, he followed up quickly on the email and applied.
Soon after, he was invited for a chance to compete with the team at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. There, he trained in air rifle, sitting volleyball, swimming and archery. He was accepted to the team and in February of 2023, he started traveling and training in the big leagues.
“Seeing and being around people with all different types of stories was an amazing and humbling experience,” said Spaulding. “Seeing how people can overcome challenges in life was the coolest thing. I haven’t been here that long, but I already know I want to be a part of this for as long as I can.”
Only four months after starting his training, he was invited to the 2023 Department of Defense Warrior Games in San Diego, California. The event tests the physical and mental skills of wounded, ill, and injured active duty and veteran U.S. military service members as they compete head-to-head with other branches of service in a paralympic-style event.
Spaulding fiercely competed in air rifle -- winning an impressive two bronze medals.
“The medals don’t even matter to me,” said Spaulding. “We may compete with each other, but we’re still one team. Coming together as the people of Team America and showing others that we can adapt and overcome anything we put our mind to is why we are the best military in the world.”
Due to a recent surgery, he was unable to compete as planned in swimming and floor volleyball. This, however, did not deter him from the sidelines cheering on his teammates while waving the Air Force flag, offering an infectious morale boost, a positive attitude and unwavering dedication to the team.
“I think the games are important to show that we’re not just uniforms in the office or athletes on a field," said Spaulding. "It shows that we do care about people. If you look around any event, you’ll see different branches cheering for each other and that is what it is all about -- the people.”