Independence Day Has Extra Special Meaning For These 25 Military Veterans Who Compete For Team USA

By Scott McDonald | July 04, 2018, 12:23 a.m. (ET)

Before these Olympians and Paralympians donned the red, white and blue for Team USA earlier this year in PyeongChang, South Korea, they wore a different kind of uniform representing their country.

The 2018 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams included 25 military veterans (18 Paralympians, seven Olympians) and service members from all different branches and backgrounds. Four are members of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program. Five are Purple Heart recipients. And six all come from the gold medal-winning sled hockey team.

One athlete trained by running wind sprints while under a mortar attack in Afghanistan, one was an Arabic linguist in the Navy, one was an officer with SEAL Team 1 and one was an explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) technician. 

They all have unique stories to tell.

 

U.S. Olympic Team Veterans:

Nick Cunningham, Bobsled

Cunningham is a sergeant in the New York National Guard with the 1156th Engineer Company (Vertical). In PyeongChang, the three-time Olympian finished 19th in the four-man bobsled and 21st in two-man.

 

Chris Fogt, Bobsled

Fogt is a lieutenant serving in the Military Intelligence branch of the Army. He spent a year deployed in Iraq immediately following the 2010 Vancouver Games. In PyeongChang, the three-time Olympian finished 20th in the four-man bobsled driven by Justin Olsen. He won bronze in four-man with pilot Steven Holcomb at the 2014 Sochi Games.

 

Taylor Morris, Luge

Morris is a sergeant in the Army who took up luge at a young age in Utah shortly after seeing the 2002 Salt Lake Games in his hometown. He finished 18th in PyeongChang in his Olympic debut.

 

Matt Mortensen, Luge

Mortensen is an electrician in the New York National Guard who missed the podium in PyeongChang by a tenth of a second, placing fourth in the team relay. He and partner Jayson Terdiman were 10th in doubles. They were third overall in the 2016-17 season, the best finish by a U.S. team in 14 years.

 

Justin Olsen, Bobsled

A 2010 Olympic gold medalist and three-time Olympian, Olsen serves in the New York National Guard. Just days before the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Winter Games, Olsen was admitted to a hospital with acute appendicitis. He had a laparoscopic appendectomy in the town of Gangneung, and stomached a return to the track for 14th place in two-man and 20th in four-man. 

 

Emily Sweeney, Luge

Sweeney joined the National Guard after hearing her dad tell his old Navy stories. The four-time world cup medalist made her Olympic debut in PyeongChang, but did not finish after a horrific crash. She lost control at turn 12 of her final run and went airborne.

 

Nate Weber, Bobsled

An Army Green Beret, Weber ran wind sprints last year in Afghanistan during training — all while his camp was under a mortar attack and sirens wailed in the desert night. He was part of Justin Olsen’s four-man crew that finished 20th in PyeongChang.

 


U.S. Paralympic Team Veterans

Kirk Black, Wheelchair Curling

Black served in the Army from 1988-1993 and later became heavily involved in motocross racing. A motocross accident in 2002 left him wheelchair bound, and he found his way into wheelchair curling after trying the sport at the National Veteran Wheelchair Games in 2007. The skip said he “cried like a baby” when he received his 2018 U.S. Paralympic Team gear.

 

Kevin Burton and Brandon Powell-Ashby, Alpine Skiing

Burton was a Navy linguist specializing in Arabic. He served tours in Iraq and Kuwait before he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa in 2010. He made his Paralympic debut in 2014. Powell-Ashby is a U.S. Marine Corps lance corporal and Burton's guide. They finished 5th in super combined, 7th in downhill and 9th in super-G at the PyeongChang Games.

 

Dan Cnossen, Nordic Skiing

Cnossen was a lieutenant commander for SEAL Team 1 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan in 2009 and lost his legs. He was awarded both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor from the Secretary of the Navy for his service in combat. In PyeongChang, the two-time Paralympian went six for six, winning: gold, sitting biathlon 7.5-kilometer; silver, sitting biathlon 12.5K and 15K, and sitting cross-country 7.5K and 15K; and bronze, sitting cross-country sprint.

 

Ralph DeQuebec, Sled Hockey

DeQuebec was a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps who became a bilateral above-knee amputee after being injured in Afghanistan by an IED. The Purple Heart recipient was a defenseman on the sled hockey team that won gold in PyeongChang.

 

Travis Dodson, Sled Hockey

The retired Marine corporal was injured on Valentine’s Day 2007 in Iraq when a grenade was tossed into the second-story room he was staying in. The blast severed his left leg at the hip and right leg below the knee. The Purple Heart recipient was a forward on the sled hockey team that won gold in PyeongChang. He also competed at the Sochi Games in Nordic skiing and biathlon.

 

Josh Elliott, Alpine Skiing

Elliot gives credit to God for allowing him a second chance to serve and represent his country. While on a routine patrol with the Marine Corps in Afghanistan in 2011, he stepped on an IED, which resulted in the loss of both legs above the knee and three fingers on his left hand. In PyeongChang, he finished 6th in super combined.

 

Stephen Emt, Wheelchair Curling

Emt attended the United States Military Academy before later walking on to play basketball for coach Jim Calhoun at UConn in the early 1990s. Following a 1995 auto accident that left him paralyzed, Emt tried other adaptive sports before discovering wheelchair curling in 2012. It was a hit with him right away, culminating in him serving as vice skip for Team USA in PyeongChang.

 

Sean Halsted, Nordic Skiing

While serving in the Air Force and working on a fast rope during a search-and-rescue training exercise in 1998, Halsted fell 40 feet out of a helicopter. He’s a three-time Paralympian, and recorded his best finishes in PyeongChang with 12th place in the open 4x2.5K cross-country and 14th in the 12.5K biathlon.

 

Jen Lee, Sled Hockey

Lee is an Army staff sergeant on active duty, but was injured in a 2009 motorcycle accident. The goaltender is a two-time Paralympian, winning gold in sled hockey in both Sochi and PyeongChang.

 

Luke McDermott, Sled Hockey

McDermott became a bilateral below-knee amputee after being injured by an IED while on patrol in Afghanistan in June 2010 – his second tour with the 1st Battalion 6th Marines. The forward won gold on the sled hockey team in PyeongChang.

 

Josh Misiewicz, Sled Hockey

Misiewicz was a Marine Corps lance corporal serving in Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion 5th Marines when he was injured by an IED and had to have both legs amputated above the knee. The forward won gold with the sled hockey team in PyeongChang.

 

Bryan Price, Nordic Skiing

Price is a retired Army staff sergeant and two-time Paralympian. At the PyeongChang Games, he finished 16th in 12.5K biathlon, 20th in 7.5K biathlon and 26th in 7.5K cross-country.

 

Rico Roman, Sled Hockey

The retired Army staff sergeant had his left leg amputated above the knee after getting wounded by an IED while serving his third tour in Iraq in February of 2007. The Purple Heart recipient and sled hockey forward won his second gold medal in PyeongChang.

 

Jimmy Sides, Snowboarding

The Marine Corps staff sergeant was an EOD technician in Afghanistan in 2012 trying to manually disarm an IED when it exploded. He lost vision in his left eye and part of his right arm below the elbow. The native Texan qualified for his first Paralympic Games in 2018, finishing 14th in banked slalom and 15th in snowboardcross.

 

Andy Soule, Nordic SkiingAndy Soule competes in Vancouver Paralympics

Army veteran Soule was riding in the back of an open-bed Humvee in Afghanistan when the vehicle rolled over an IED. He lost both legs in the explosion and was awarded a Purple Heart. In PyeongChang, he won gold in the sitting cross-country sprint and a bronze in the sitting biathlon 12.5K. A three-time Paralympian, he earned a previous bronze in 2010, when he became the first American biathlete to medal at the Olympics or Paralympics.

 

Michael Spivey, Snowboarding

Spivey was a sergeant in the Marine Corps when, on duty in Afghanistan in 2010, he lost his left arm below the elbow and suffered shrapnel injuries to his back and legs from an IED. He picked up snowboarding during his initial rehab and eventually qualified for PyeongChang, where he finished 18th in both banked slalom and snowboardcross.

 

Jeremy Wagner, Nordic Skiing

Wagner was a reserve soldier in the Army who was injured in a motorcycle accident shortly after a serving a 2007 tour in Iraq. In PyeongChang, the two-time Paralympian finished 19th in 7.5K biathlon and 30th in 7.5K cross-country.

 

Scott McDonald has 18 years experience in sports reporting. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.