PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Hundreds of spectators, families and service members cheered as Team Air Force defeated three-time defending champions, Team Navy, during the wheelchair basketball gold match in a nail-biting edge-of-your-seat competition, 66-60, June 28, 2019, during the Department of Defense Wounded Warrior Games June 21 – 30 in Tampa Bay, Florida.
It was Reserve Citizen Airman Staff Sgt. Kevin Greene’s first time competing in the games and he was elated. It would be his sixth gold medal win during the 10-day sporting event with one more match to go in sitting volleyball.
To add to the six-foot-five amputee’s excitement, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. David L. Goldfein, was there cheering on the team. Goldfein even joined them in their final huddle from the sidelines where he was watching excitedly.
The players blocked, dribbled and swiftly spun back and forth in their highly maneuverable sporting wheelchairs playing with precision and spirt, captivating the spectators. Goldfein was no different. With grace and determination they manipulated their steel chairs up and down the court. At times, spilling over leaving the crowd wide-eyed, but then easing themselves back onto two wheels again, mostly on their own, but sometimes with an assist from a teammate.
Greene and the man seated at the Air Force throne have history. Goldfein reenlisted Greene in 2017 and introduced him to the Wounded Warrior program. A Senior Airman at the time, separation from the service he loved was never an option for the healthcare management technician with the 920th Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. After a two-and-a-half-year fight, including three rejection letters and an in-person medical evaluation board, he once again donned his Air Force blues when the Air Force reinstated him back to duty.
Even though Greene had not gone to combat in his 7-year Air Force career thus far, he was a fighter and his wing leadership recognized this characteristic in him and decided the Chief of Staff needed to meet Greene for himself and conduct his reenlistment. Wing Commander, Col Kurt Matthews, and the Wing Command Chief took Greene with them to Washington D.C. during a Capitol Hill visit in November 2017.
No one was wrong in what they saw in Greene. He proudly scored 9 medals proving that the COS’s advice to consider competing in the WWGs was “golden”. What happened next was a bonus. The adaptive sports competition had an effect on its new competitor.
He learned just how resilient he is through perseverance in competing.
“I work full time. I ‘m a father and a husband. To do that and maintain a healthy lifestyle then go out and compete, on top of serving in the Air Force Reserve, takes a lot of perseverance and a lot of time management,” said Greene.
“Then, squeeze into prosthetic appointments. When your shoes wear out you can just go buy another pair, but you can’t do that as an amputee.”
Six gold--two silver—and three bronze medals later, Greene is a champion who showed the COS, his commander, the Air Force, his friends, colleagues and family what he is made of, but most of all he showed himself that an injury doesn’t have to limit one as he effortlessly won the gold medals in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 meter dash, indoor rowing, and wheelchair basketball. He won two silvers in sitting volleyball and recumbent bicycling and he also took a bronze in recumbent bicycling.
Despite his new athletic status, Greene remains humble and defined his toughest challenge of the event--his first event.
“My first race was nerve-racking,” Greene said. “There were crowds in the stands yelling and a lot going on … I’m used to being on a track by myself. Once I ran the race, I was good. I beat people with two legs and my confidence went sky high,” said Greene.
The DoD Wounded Warrior Games was established to rehabilitate and promote the health of wounded service members through the use of adaptive sports, teamwork and fitness.
Greene has used the term he coined “limbitless” when referring to his newfound inspiration. The amputee athlete has pioneered his own journey of growth and healing in the Air Force Reserve, and now he serves as a role model encouraging and inspiring other Reserve Citizen Airmen who are wounded, physically or mentally, to look into participating.
“This is a celebration,” Greene said. “People really find their purpose through this program.”
Editor’s note: Greene was involved in a motorcycle accident on December 2014, which led to the amputation of left foot and the lower part of his leg. With the support of his unit, physical therapy and the advancement of prosthetics, Greene was determined to walk again. With the risk of getting medically discharged after the accident, Greene fought back with determination and was returned to duty after completing a medical board which involved the successful completion of an Air Force physical fitness test.