FORT POLK, La. –
The military ombudsman for Bayne-Jones Army Community hospital brought home eight medals for the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, Louisiana at the 36th Annual National Veterans Golden Age Games. Kevin Stuart, retired command sergeant major and combat medic is a stellar example of fitness and resiliency for veterans of all ages.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Veterans Golden Age Games is the premier senior adaptive rehabilitation program in the United States, and the only national multi-event sports and recreational seniors’ competition program. The program designed to improve the quality of life for all older veterans, including those with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. The NVGAG is one of the most progressive and adaptive rehabilitative senior sports programs in the world. The Games serve as a qualifying event for competition in the National Senior Games in a number of competitive events.
This year’s competition was held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and was the third Stuart participated in.
Stuart says being physically active is the best way to build resiliency and improve overall health.
“I’m 62 years old and exercise and fitness are part of my daily life,” he said. “There’s a reason the Army does physical training first thing in the morning because it gets those endorphins flowing,” he said. “Endorphins make us feel good, look good and help us perform our best. I encourage everyone to get up and move as often as they can. Simple things people can do, such as parking farther away or taking a little walk during a break at work, can improve our overall wellbeing. Moving makes us feel better and allows us to serve our patients and beneficiaries better.”
Stuart said he heard about the NVGAG in 2016.
“The games are held annually in different cities around the country for veterans 55 years old and older,” he said. “I participated in the Albuquerque, New Mexico, Anchorage, Alaska and most recently in Sioux Falls competitions. They cancelled the events scheduled for Florida and Wisconsin because of COVID-19.”
Stuart said there are a variety of activities for male and female veterans to include air pistol, air rifle, badminton, basketball, blind disc golf, boccia, bowling, cornhole, cycling, adaptive cycling, field, golf, horseshoes, nine ball, pickleball, powerwalk, shuffleboard, swimming, table tennis and track. The events are open to ambulatory, wheelchair bound and blind athletes with age classifications of 55-59, 60-64, 65-69, 70-74, 75-79, 80-84, 85-89 and 90 plus. Stuart competed in nine events.
“This year I competed in the air rifle event for the first time where I finished eighth,” he said. “I earned medals in the other events I competed in. I finished first in the1500 meter powerwalk, 2nd in 400 meter run and pickleball, third in the 3000 and 1500 meter run as well as badminton and table tennis.”
Stuart said he used partner-finder for both badminton and pickleball and met his partners for those sports on the day of the event.
“I’ve met a lot of great people competing in these games. Veterans from the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “When I competed in the Anchorage games, there was a 101 year-old World War II female veteran who won first place in bowling.”
Stuart said many of the participants spend a lot of time practicing their events and own top of the line equipment.
“This is a huge deal, the medals are a big deal and are a culmination of all their hard work,” he said “The medals and the games are motivating and inspiring.”
Stuart said the comradery of the NVGAG games is second to none.
“The same comradery we had in the military; Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard,” he said. “It’s similar to that, to that connection we had with one another when we were in the military. That sisterhood and brotherhood we have in these events. When we were in the military, we were competitive; when we got a mission or a task, we wanted to be the best. These are games, but it’s also life; fitness for life. You can’t just show up to these games and perform, you have to prepare, and you have to practice. These games have connected me to other veterans from across the country, different branches and eras of service that I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t decided to compete.”
Stuart served on active duty for 32 years in the Army and retired in 2014, he became the military ombudsman for BJACH in 2018.
The JRTC and Fort Polk ombudsman functions as an independent, neutral, and impartial resource for military service members and their Family members. The ombudsman can assist in addressing medical concerns, but can also assist in addressing other issues as well.
Stuart says he enjoys his position as the military ombudsman at BJACH because he wants to share his knowledge and experience to help others. In his role he serves as a liaison, an advocate and a resource to Soldiers and their families.
“If a Soldier or family member brings an issue to me, I will take on that problem as if it were my own,” he said. “I will coordinate, collaborate, communicate and in some cases mediate to help that individual get their issue addressed.”
Col. Aristotle Vaseliades, commander for BJACH, said Stuart embodies resiliency.
“Mr. Stuart has the ability to find positivity in everything that is happening around him; good bad or indifferent,” he said. “As a retired command sergeant major, working on the government civilian side of the house, he has the ability to connect with almost anybody in the hospital. He understands the perspective they are coming from, and provides useful tools and recommendations for them to become more resilient.”
Vaseliades said he encourages resiliency within his organization.
“First, during in-processing, I remind all employees that their health and wellness is integral to them providing their best on a day-to-day basis. I encourage them to do whatever they need to physically, psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally stay on top of their wellness,” he said. “At BJACH, we offer a meditation room and a resiliency gym to the staff where they can take a quick break to relax or work off some stress if they need it. We've also just started up a resiliency team comprised of a cross section of hospital staff, both Soldiers and civilians charged with looking at certain areas within the hospital that can be improved to help with resiliency. Mr. Stuart is in charge of looking at our wellness line-of-effort.”
Stuart said he encourages everyone to try new things whenever they can.
“People were not made to be alone, especially as we get older, these games bring people together and help us stay connected,” he said. “It’s important for veterans to join and participate in veterans organizations and advocate for each other and for those still serving.”
Stuart said everyone should get involved in something.
“Everyone should get involved in some type of activity or event to keep you going,” he said. “Everyone has a niche, but sometimes you don’t know what that is until you engage in it. I would say to anyone out there, give yourself an opportunity to engage and participate in something. If you can get involved in some sort of activity, group and give back to the community. Sometimes we are the vessel to help others and we don’t even realize it until we get involved.”
Stuart said there is good in every day.
“Get out of the house, get out of the barracks,” he said. “There are all sorts of things to do and participate in, both on and off post. In life there is a sunny side and a slummy side. I tend to look on the sunny side. I don’t need the negative vibes, I need the positive vibes. The positive vibes have a tendency to get me moving, thinking and being positive. There is good in every day, we just have to find it.”