By Airman 1st Class Rose Gudex
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Inspired by the annual Warrior Games, the inaugural Invictus Games are scheduled for Sept. 10-14 in London with Team Pete’s very own Master Sgt. Benjamin “Paul” Horton slated as a competitor.
The Invictus Games were born out of Prince Harry’s desire to bring a similar event to the UK after attending last year’s Warrior Games at the Air Force Academy and witnessing the athletes’ heart and determination and the bonds of friendship forged from the competitions.
Horton, currently the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal program manager with 16 years of active-duty service, had to find a new sense of purpose when his most recent deployment as an EOD technician turned out to be his last.
Sept. 22, 2010 was his final mission going into an enemy compound in Helmand province in Afghanistan. Horton was there to perform a blast analysis after an earlier bomb detonated. Upon arrival he found five improvised explosive devices and immediately started clearing one side of the compound, but the other side was too dangerous for the soldiers to enter.
While trying to clear a path for troops to come and get out wounded soldiers, Horton stepped on an IED. He was thrown several feet, blasted with shrapnel in his face, neck and torso and couldn’t see anything. Blood squirted out of both his carotid artery and jugular vein, he said.
Horton was temporarily blind and thought his left arm had been sheared off. He eventually regained sight in his right eye, but could only use it for 20 seconds at a time. He even refused morphine.
“I refused the morphine because I needed to be able to focus on my job and call out directions,” Horton said.
While temporarily deaf, blind and critically injured, Horton was able to concentrate and call out safe pathways for troops coming in to assist with the blast. He gathered evidence, most of which he said came off of his own person, and finished the post-blast analysis before being taken out on a medevac helicopter to receive medical treatment.
Horton’s eyesight was saved and he didn’t lose any limbs, however, he did suffer a traumatic brain injury and, as time goes on, is seeing more problems surface that are related to his time deployed. These new medical problems are forcing him to leave active duty and a long, inspiring career.
“My purpose used to be saving lives and bringing home as many people as I could,” said Horton. “Now I’ve had to find a new purpose. I still want to change the world.”
One thing that helped Horton cope was competing in the Warrior Games and attending adapted sports camps.
“The thing about adapted sports camps is that it teaches you to stop looking at what you lost,” Horton said. “They help you focus and do your best to represent your country and find a purpose again.”
Horton will be competing in six events — swimming, cycling, shot put, discus, rowing and power lifting.
After putting everything he had into being an EOD team lead, he is now refocused on training for the Invictus Games.
“It’s tough leaving the Air Force,” Horton said. “The fact that one of the last things I get to do is to represent my country on the field in competition overseas is pretty awesome. I’m unbelievably lucky and honored.”
The Invictus Games’ catchphrase, “I AM,” is something that can help wounded warriors with their sense of identity, Horton said.
“I was an EOD tech. That’s who I was,” he said. “When all of sudden you’re not an EOD tech, who are you? I think the ‘I AM’ says I am a person. I don’t need anything else. I have inherent value in myself. You don’t have to be anything because you already are something.”
“The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence — ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal,” Horton quoted. “That doesn’t mean everybody is born with two arms or two legs; or that everybody is born with eyesight or the ability to hear. What it means is we all have inherent worth and we can all change the world.”
The Invictus Games will have over 400 competitors from 14 different countries, all of whom are servicemen and women who have seen the harsh reality of what it means to fight for freedom and the rights many people take for granted. They are mothers, fathers, husbands and wives who have put their lives on the line and suffered life-changing injuries.
The Games will help these warriors prove they still have a purpose and cannot be defeated just from being wounded in combat.
For more information about the Warrior Games, go to www.woundedwarrior.af.mil
For more information about the Invictus Games, go to www.invictusgames.org