Washington Salute teamed up with Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) to host a virtual gaming exhibition Oct. 27, kicking off the NFL's Salute to Service initiative to honor, empower and connect service members, veterans and their families.
Co-host Alec LaCorazza, Washington's military liaison, has been getting creative by coming up with different ways to connect Washington's coaches and players with servicemen and women from the safety and comfort of their homes.
"Since Coach Rivera jumped on board in January… [he] has pressed me time and time again to make November special," LaCorazza said, "and this is one few things we can do."
Beth Schmidt, the Washington, D.C. alumni manager for WWP, introduced the three warriors who participated in the event. First was Michael Carrasquillo, who is the peer support group leader out of Frederick, Maryland, followed by his co-leader, King Smith, who has helped warriors connect with resources and each other, and John Rego, the warrior leader in Delaware who is a longtime Washington fan.
Natalie Wooley, an outreach specialist in Richmond, Virginia, was a big part of the gaming initiative for WWP. The novel coronavirus forced Wooley and others to brainstorm for eight months on ways to keep the warriors engaged.
"Gaming is the medium that brings a lot of our warriors together," Wooley said, "because they utilize it to overcome the PTSD, the anxiety, the struggles they go through because it's that brief second in time for an hour that they can be with other people and take their mind off of it."
The warriors were able to share their stories while games were being played. Carrasquillo was ambushed and shot five times as he was helping a fellow infantry man when a bullet ricocheted off his gun and took off his finger.
"I have the physical wounds of war, but I also deal with the invisible wounds: the PTSD, the depression and the isolation, Carrasquillo said. "Again, Wounded Warrior Project has been a huge part of my recovery allowing me to be with other warriors and know that I'm not alone and that I'm going through this with so many others. ...It's been vital to my recovery for sure."
Rego, who served in multiple tours as an airborne ranger, was in a building that was hit with an artillery round during his final tour, resulting in him being buried alive by the building. He was introduced to WWP after undergoing nearly 40 surgeries, and the organization changed his life for the better.
"They've done amazing things for me," he said. "They've kind of helped me reevaluate myself as no longer being just an injured veteran, but also help me figure out who the real me is. It has had such a positive impact on me and my life and has offered me the opportunity to help out other people in my area and work with other veterans who are in that process of transitioning out."