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Monday, Oct 16, 2017
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Howard Altman: Marine pushing for Warrior Games in Tampa wins medals

Back in July, Mike Nicholson, a Marine who lost three limbs in Afghanistan, was earning gold medals in the Defense Department's Warrior Games.

Last month in Toronto, Nicholson continued his winning ways at the Invictus Games.

"It was life-changing," he said.

The Invictus Games, featuring wounded, ill and injured veterans and service members from around the world, was the brainchild of Britain's Prince Harry. He was inspired to create the international competition by his visit to the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado.

The third edition of the Invictus Games, Sept. 23-30, hosted more than 550 competitors from 17 nations competing in 12 adaptive sports.

Nicholson competed in several, doing particularly well in swimming events.

He won a gold medal for the 50-meter backstroke.

"It was my worst stroke, but I got my best personal time," he said.

He won two silver medals, in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle, and a bronze medal in the 50-meter breaststroke.

He was also on the Team USA wheelchair basketball team, which won a gold medal.

"This was a slightly bigger scale than the Warrior Games," said Nicholson, one of several veterans from the area who competed. "But the same competitive atmosphere and brotherhood was still there."

During the games, Nicholson said he got to meet a number of famous people.

"Talking to Prince Harry is just like talking to one of the guys," Nicholson said. "He's incredibly humble and cares very much about how the families were enjoying the games."

He added, "President Obama visited the U.S. basketball team before a preliminary game along with Vice President Biden, his wife and Prince Harry. It was really motivating to have that support before a game."

Nicholson, 28, won six gold medals in July's Warrior Games and was inspired to try to bring them to Tampa in 2019.

U.S. Special Operations Command, with headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, has expressed interest in hosting the games here.

City Councilman Luis Viera was the first to jump on pushing to get the games here, introducing a council measure that passed unanimously.

The City Council sent a letter to SOCom, noting the command's strong relationship with the community. That was followed by letters from Rich Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who wrote to SOCom's commander, Army Gen. Raymond A. "Tony" Thomas III.

Viera said the effort continues to gain traction.

"We have the support of the entire delegation of the County Commission, as well as Mayor Bob Buckhorn in writing and from the greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, and these letters have been sent over to the Department of Defense," he said.

•••

The Department of Defense announced last week the deaths of four soldiers who were part of a joint U.S. and Niger training and advising mission.

Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga.; and Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens died Oct. 4 in southwest Niger as a result of enemy fire. All soldiers were assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C. The incident is under investigation.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 43 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan; 39 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; and one death classified as other contingency operations in part of the global war on terrorism.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

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