By Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — He doesn’t see scars, illnesses or disabilities. Don’t get him wrong, he does care. However, in his sport, he only has one requirement.
“Do they have a positive attitude and the willingness to learn?” asked Todd Benson.
For two years, Benson has been the head coach for the Air Force’s Wounded Warrior shooting team. This year, he is coaching 15 athletes for the 2014 Warrior Games. His team will compete with other athletes from Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy and special operations.
“I don’t believe shooting has anything to do with disabilities,” the 2nd Space Operations Squadron commander said. “It is an adaptive sport. You see athletes who don’t have fingers to pull the trigger, but they make it work.”
He does not treat the Wounded Warrior athletes differently than any other shooters because the sport’s principle is the same — sight alignment, trigger squeeze, breathing and mental relaxation.
“I have the same standards for them that I have for any shooter,” said Benson. “And our athletes all rise to the occasion.”
The lieutenant colonel gained his experience when he was a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he was part of the pistol and rifle team. After graduating from the Academy, his first Air Force assignment was with his alma mater, as the rifle team’s assistant coach. He was also part of the service’s shooting team as a pistol competitor.
“His experience during his Academy years is a great tool for us; it definitely helps our team a lot,” said Israel Deltorro, one of the Air Force shooting team’s coaches.
Benson began coaching the Wounded Warrior team in 2012. He skipped 2013 because he has to attend Air Command and Staff College. This year, he decided to join the team again.
“Because I just wanted to help,” he said.
On a typical day, Benson and three other coaches work with the athletes on finding the right shooting position and enhancing their techniques. They also conduct practice matches as well as simulate a competitive atmosphere.
“We’ll yell, we’ll scream, make noise or get totally quiet,” he said. “The pressure mounts up. We try to do those things to get them used to the ambiance of a match, so they can really focus.”
One of the Air Force athletes under Benson’s helm is Andrew Evans, who decided to join the Warrior Games as a way to be active after his injury.
“Coach Benson is an amazing coach,” the Idaho Falls, Idaho, native said. “He is able to help me refine my techniques. He was able to zero in on my shots. And then get my focus where it needs to be. Focus and concentration — that’s what this game is all about. He was able to help me set up a rhythm that I can use when I am shooting.”
Evans appreciated all of the coaches’ guidance and assistance for enabling him to reach the Warrior Games.
“The whole coaching staff couldn’t be better,” he said. “They know so much about shooting. They come with so much expertise and knowledge. It’s great to have a staff and team like that.”
Though the athletes are competitive in nature, their team dynamics would be described as friendly and more family oriented.
“Our members love to go out and meet other athletes,” Benson said. “They are very engaged. They are not just focused on winning. They want to meet other folks because they realize they are not alone.”
Deltorro echoed the sentiment.
“We have very good team camaraderie,” he said. “The great thing about our coaches is we have the same mentality; we joke around with each other. We get along pretty well. With all the coaches’ different experiences, we each have different points to give to our athletes.”
As a coach, Benson’s main goal for the team is to provide the athletes something to look forward to and give them a lifelong hobby they can be excited about.
“I want to give them something to fill their mind with, something healthy,” he said. “I like to call that healthy addiction. If we can fill them with positive thoughts and give them that competitive drive, this will greatly help them.”
Participating in sports helps the athletes become more engaged and empower them to mentor new athletes, he added.
“It is more important for me to have them build relationships and have a family environment than it is to win a medal,” Benson said. “There are bigger accomplishments in life.”
After coaching for two years, Benson said he is humbled and fascinated by his athletes and their dedication.
“We have one athlete from Georgia who didn’t intend to shoot; next thing you know, he is shooting, and he loves it,” he recounted.
Because of this, Benson’s team called an Army marksmanship unit at Fort Benning, Georgia, and asked if the athlete could come out and use the facilities.
“Now, he is well on his way to be part of the U.S. Paralympic development team,” he said. “This is the guy who had no intention six months ago to pick up a rifle. It is amazing and impressive.”
Benson said he has enjoyed his coaching experience so far.
“I seem to get quite a bit out of it, probably more than the athletes,” he said. “One of the main reasons for the Wounded Warrior program is to remind Airmen that we have a large team, which also includes the wounded and ill. We cannot ever forget them. They are our family. And taking care of them is part of our job as Airmen.”
For more information about the 2014 Warrior Games, visit www.teamusa.org/warriorgames/. For information on the Air Force team, visit http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/AirForceWarriorGames.aspx.