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Heroes Among Us

02/12/2013, 10:00am CST
By Toni Gillen, USA Disabled Hockey Director, Minnesota District

The banter in the locker room of the Vadnais Heights Sports Complex is fast and furious. Jokes are being shared back and forth and a good amount trash talk is taking place about the last game.  The players are lacing up their skates and stepping out onto the ice for practice. It sounds like a run-of-the-mill day at the rink, but this isn’t your average team. Taking the ice is the Minnesota Warriors, a team of heroes.

The Minnesota Warriors Ice Hockey Program has been organized for wounded, injured or otherwise disabled veterans of the United States Military, in conjunction with the USA Disabled Hockey Program, to assist our veterans with re-integration into civilian life.  The program uses the game of hockey to build camaraderie and a sense of community. In addition, it creates an opportunity for veterans with disabilities to develop self-confidence, easing their transition back into mainstream lifestyle, and helping them be more successful on and off the ice.

While the players are skating through drills, they demonstrate the same commitment and passion that they brought to their military life.  Their team mates are their comrades in arms, and the sense of belonging translates easily for many, from unit to team. 

Each player has their own story, but they share the common bond of being injured during their deployment.  They are all heroes.  But when asked to share their stories, as if in one united voice, they instead want to share the stories of those that gave the ultimate sacrifice in the protection of our nation. 

To honor their fallen brothers and sisters, the Minnesota Warriors created the “Hall of Honor”.  During ceremonies throughout the year, one honorary member of the team is remembered with a tribute and jersey bearing their name.  To date, they have honored three people.

SSGT Bryan McDonough was the second of four children; all born within five years to a close knit family. McDonough grew up playing sports in the Roseville area. His favorites were hockey and lacrosse, two physical sports in which he went all out, never backing down. He brought that same pride and dedication to his mission when he joined the military.

“Right now I’m in Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom,” posted McDonough on his personal website. “This is definitely not the most glorious place in the world, but there’s no other place I would rather be. Putting everything on the line to defend my country is something I wanted to do and am proud to be here.”

On December 2, 2006, Bryan happened to be the driver of his squad’s brand new Humvee out on routine patrol. He was following a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, a tracked vehicle that most of us would call a “Tank”, down a road near their base. The Bradley has a wider track than that of a Humvee and somehow missed the massive improvised explosive device (IED) that Bryan drove over. The blast killed Bryan instantly. Bryan might have stood only 5 foot 7 in his boots, but he was a very big man to all that knew him.

SSGT James Wosika was assigned to the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry, Crookston, Minn. He was killed Jan. 9, 2007 in Fallujah, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an IED detonated near his unit while on combat patrol. Wosika was a state champion wrestler and a football player at Highland Park Senior High in St. Paul prior to enlisting in the Minnesota Army National Guard.

Marine Sgt. Chad Frokjer was killed June 30, 2011 when he stepped on an IED in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, on the Pakistani border.Frokjer, 27, was a convoy commander assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.

Chad grew up in Maplewood, Minn., the younger of two siblings. Even as a toddler, he professed a deep loyalty to his country. In 2002, shortly after his high school graduation, the young man enlisted in the Marine Corps and soon found himself in California, stationed at Camp Pendleton.

Being a Marine was a job Chad loved, mainly because it gave him a feeling of camaraderie and a sense that he was standing up for his country after the Sept. 11 attacks. Chad served two tours of duty in Iraq.

The Minnesota Warriors continue to skate, continue to welcome new players, and are constantly helping those injured veterans to find a way to “come all the way back home”.  While they continue to honor the heroes who are no longer with us, we honor them as our friends, family, heroes…….and hockey players.

For more information on Minnesota Disabled Hockey (including Warriors, sled, and special hockey) please contact Toni Gillen at tobrien@minnesotahockey.org, or by cell at 651-307-0660.

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Tag(s): Players  Disabled Hockey  USA/Minnesota Warriors