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Warrior in Transition ends career with ‘bang,’ wins gold at Warrior Games

Email   Print   Share By Gloria Montgomery, WTB Public Affairs
June 24, 2010 | Living
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Fort Hood Warrior in Transition, Spc. Jantzen Frazier, a five-time Purple Heart recipient, won a gold medal in shooting during the inaugural Warrior Games, held last month in Colorado Springs, Co. Frazier also participates in the Warrior Transition Brigade’s work therapy program and is assigned to 1st Cavalry Division’s Horse Detachment, where he forges branding irons in the detachment’s farrier shop. Gloria Montgomery, WTB Public Affairs
Their eyes were focused on their son’s every move: the scoot, the spike, the joy. They were watching their son, Spc. Jantzen Frazier, a five-time Purple Heart recipient, maneuver his body to deflect balls and pursue shots in a sporting competition designed more for amputees than for their two-legged son.

Considering the father and son talk two, sometimes three times a day, there was never any doubt that Merrill and Debbie Frazier would travel the 1,260 miles from Hartselle, Ala., to Colorado Springs to root for Jantzen, their only child, as he competed in the inaugural Warrior Games, a sporting venue created specifically for America’s wounded and injured servicemembers.

Though Jantzen had excelled in youth sports, this adaptation of volleyball was a virgin competition for him because of the unusual “one cheek on the floor” rule. This, he said, was the hardest part of the competition.

“The guys missing one or both legs had a natural advantage and could just scoot around without breaking the ‘cheek’ rule,” the Fort Hood Warrior in Transition Soldier said, smiling.

This was Frazier’s inauguration into the Paralympics sport of sitting volleyball.

Frazier was one of 100 wounded or injured Soldiers selected for Team Army in the Warrior Games, which was co-sponsored by the U.S. Olympic committee and the Department of Defense. The morale-boosting competition, held May 10-14 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., was designed to promote healing and recovery and included Paralympics adaptive sports like wheelchair basketball, floor volleyball, swimming, track and field, archery and shooting. Categories were broken down into upper body or lower body injuries, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. About 100 servicemembers from the other service branches also participated.

Although Frazier’s team was soundly defeated in the bronze medal round in their division, the 25 year old was the top warrior in his other competitive event, standing air rifle, winning gold in the upper body division.

With a bullet the size of a pencil eraser and a bulls eye the size of a pin head, competitive air rifle requires precision, visual acuity and extreme concentration. Professional competition consists of shooting 60 rounds at a target about 3 inches in diameter from 10 meters away.

Before the competition, Frazier, along with the Army’s other shooters, spent two weeks at Fort Benning, Ga., learning air-rifle shooting techniques and marksmanship fundamentals with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit.

Once he conquered the nuances of the stance, rifle positioning and circular sight, he said it felt like shooting any other rifle.

“I’m a pretty good shot,” he said, “but it was still hard.” He chuckled at the fact that he had “smoked” his closest competition, a Marine. “Marines are known for being good shooters, so it felt real good winning.”

“He didn’t even tell us he had won a medal,” his father said, of his Soldier son. “We missed the medal ceremony, which was held during the volleyball game. Someone had whisked Jantzen away, and when he returned to the gym, he was grinning ear to ear and had a medal dangling around his neck.”

“Oh, I just won the gold medal in shooting,” he nonchalantly shouted to his proud parents as he scooted back onto the hardwood floor to return to sitting volleyball competition.

Frazier, who during his two tours in Iraq manned the gunner’s spot on his platoon’s Humvee, has had a rifle cradled under his arm since he was 7 when he fired his dad’s 22-caliber rifle.

Three years ago, Frazier, who had wanted to join the military ever since he could remember, might not have made it to the medal stand because, most likely, he would have been six feet under, the victim of a fatal sniper bullet to his head.

On Oct. 12, 2007, while on a patrol convoy in Taji in a command support unit with the 1st Cavalry Division, Frazier was manning his Humvee’s turret when his unit was attacked by insurgents.

Frazier was shot in the head. Seconds later, a second bullet ricocheted off his helmet and tore into his side. The impact knocked him unconscious and shattered several vertebras. Miraculously, his Kevlar helmet proved to be the young Soldier’s best weapon, stopping the quarter-size bullet millimeters from penetrating his brain.

Although he doesn’t remember much from that day – his memory muddled by one too many concussions – the helmet the young man has tucked away in a hall closet is his reminder of how he cheated death.

“That helmet saved my life,” the married father of two young girls said, adding that he also has the bullet that almost ended his life.

Call it being at the right place at the wrong time or the wrong place at the right time, Frazier had already survived numerous firefights, roadside bombs and sniper attacks during his two tours in Iraq. He was injured twice during his 2003-2004 tour, and at least three times during his 2006-2007 tour. But it was the Oct. 12, 2007, attack that jerked him from the battlefield and onto a medical evacuation flight first to Germany and then Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio where he spent several months recovering from severe back injuries and a swollen brain. In February 2008, he transferred to Fort Hood to what is now the Warrior Transition Brigade.

Raised in Hartselle, Ala., a rural blip on a map about 10 miles south of Decatur, Frazier had always wanted to serve his country. At 17, he asked his father to sign an age waiver that would allow him to go to boot camp and return to finish his senior year of high school. His father refused.

“He was furious at both his mother and me,” the elder Frazier said. “It wasn’t because I didn’t want him to join, but it would have to be something he did on his own.”

In April 2003, he turned 18 and promptly enlisted a month before his May graduation from Hartselle High School. In June, he left for boot camp, spending six months at Fort Jackson before he was shipped off to Germany.

Frazier is now awaiting the results of a Medical Evaluation Board, which will evaluate his injuries to determine if he can continue to serve. Because his back injuries are so extensive, the country boy knows his life as an Army mechanic is probably over. He still hasn’t whittled down his options, but his parents aren’t at all worried.

“Growing up, Jantzen was always wheeling and dealing,” his father said, adding that he’d often come home from his job stocking grocery shelves to find a dozen neighborhood kids, broken bikes in tow, standing in line waiting for the tinkering Jantzen to fix them. “He was just a natural at fixing things, and, from the time he could read, was taking things apart and putting them back together.”

Frazier loves the Army and would gladly trade all of his Purple Hearts in for one more fight. He admits it will be difficult wearing civilian clothes instead of his uniform, but more importantly, he will miss “Soldiering,” which is why the Warrior Games were so important to him. When he was in Colorado Springs, he was back to Soldiering, marrying his rifle skills to Army mission.

“I was thrilled to be asked to participate because I got to do something for the Army,” the warrior said. “The Warrior Games helped me to not think of all the stuff I couldn’t do and instead, allowed me to focus on something I could do.”

His parents are happy Frazier and his family are coming home and will be living on a family farm not far away. Although they know he may never fully recover from his war injuries, they know he is improving and are grateful to the Army and the Warrior Transition Brigade for having such a positive impact on Jantzen’s healing.

“It was a humbling experience,” Merrill said on witnessing a rebirth of Jantzen’s competitive spirit, adding that he and his wife also were moved at watching the other wounded and inured athletes. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They were having the time of their life, smiling, laughing, high fiving each other. Everyone should have an opportunity to witness this,” he said.
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