2008 Paralympic & Olympic Team Members Visit The Pentagon

Oct. 07, 2008, 1:49 p.m. (ET)
Washington, D.C. -- Athletes recently returned from the 2008 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games were welcomed on a tour of the Pentagon by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Department of Defense (D.O.D.).  

The visit provided an opportunity for the Paralympic Division of the U.S. Olympic Committee to formally thank the government office for a high level of involvement and support it provided to Team USA throughout the Beijing Paralympic Games.

And with 16 Paralympic military personnel competing in China as a result of D.O.D. backed programs for athletes with physical disabilities, it was an opportunity to offer gratitude for making their dreams come true.

"There is a long history of involvement of the military in the Olympic and Paralympic movement," said Charlie Huebner, Chief of Paralympics.  "The reason the Paralympics exist today is because a group of injured veterans from World War II started the movement as a means of using sport as rehabilitation after World War II."

The rich history of military support dates back to General Douglas MacArthur, who presided over the body when it was the American Olympic Association, known today as the U.S. Olympic Committee.

"He had a great belief in the importance of sports," said Huebner.

Today, that relationship continues as the D.O.D. works closely with U.S. Paralympics to develop community based sport programs nationwide for injured service men and women looking to rehabilitate their injuries and their lives through sport. 

It is the goal of the partnership to have 250 community based programs in the United States by 2012. 

"Our long term concern for the veterans and any body in the Armed Forces is that there will be programs for them in their local communities when they return home," said Huebner.  "The Department of Defense has provided a grant to help us develop those programs at military medical centers and facilities around the country, which is allowing us to significantly increase our support for Armed Forces and veterans."

In addition to the partnership to develop local community sport programs, the D.O.D. has provided logistical support. The D.O.D. hosted a pre-Games training camp for the Paralympic track & field and swimming teams at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan prior to Beijing.