Two Fort Drum Soldiers Participate in Wounded Warrior Tennis Camp

June 12, 2017

Q & A: Two Fort Drum Soldiers Participate in Wounded Warrior Tennis Camp

Corporal Brendale Barnes and Major Cordell Gibson, two United States Army Soldiers stationed at Fort Drum in upstate New York recently attended the 6th Annual National Wounded Warrior Tennis Camp at the Balboa Tennis Club in San Diego, Calif. It was their first time attending the camp.


The question and answer feature below highlights the experiences both Barnes and Gibson had at the camp, while also focusing on their backgrounds in the U.S. Army. Barnes, from Virginia Beach, Va., is 22 years old and Cordell, from Detroit, Mich., is 43 years old.



Why did you choose to participate in the Wounded Warrior Tennis Camp?


Brendale Barnes: I wanted to participate in something new and have the opportunity to be with other Soldiers. ADVERTISEMENT Since I’m from the East Coast, I wanted to go to the West Coast and experience a different culture.


Cordell Gibson: I was interested in attending because I played tennis 10 or 15 years ago and I really enjoyed it. Also, Wounded Warriors offers a lot of activities, so I wanted to be able to attend to show my support for the program. I didn’t expect to be chosen; I was ecstatic.


Do you have experience playing tennis?


Barnes: No, Jay Cohen, the adaptive reconditioning coordinator at Fort Drum, had me train starting at the end of March in case I was selected. Jay taught me the rules, how to serve and how to do the main strokes, so I wasn’t too new when I got to the camp.


Gibson: Yes, I played for fun and to get a workout a while back. I had a friend who played tennis and needed someone to play with about twice a week. It was enjoyable, a decent workout and much better than just running.


Describe your experience at the camp.


Barnes: We played tennis every day with help from the instructors. Since I had a little tennis experience, I was able to help some of the newer players learn the right techniques. We had a competition later in the week against what the instructors called “professionals.” As I prepared for the competition, Mr. Spike (an instructor), pulled me aside and hit with me until I gained back some of my confidence playing. When we took the court to play in the competition we found out the “professionals” were kids…really good kids! They beat everybody. You could tell they had a heart for the game. It was inspiring.  

Outside of tennis, we went to the San Diego Zoo and a military museum, which were both amazing. We also had a veteran speak to us about his experiences in the service. His speech really motivated me. 

One night we had an award ceremony where my friend Quiani and I received the SGT Lam Le Inspiration Award for outstanding attitude, sportsmanship and grace. The award was named after SGT Lam Le, a veteran who participated in the camp before he passed away. His wife, Holly Anne, was there to present this award and tell his story. It really touched my heart.


Gibson: The camp was far better than I expected. I knew I would enjoy playing tennis, but I didn’t give any thought to what else was included. Everyone who attended got along so well and enjoyed playing tennis. The people who put the camp together were awesome. They really cared about tennis and the Soldiers who participated. They made us feel comfortable. It was a great experience.


What did you like most about attending the camp?


Barnes: I liked bonding with the other Soldiers. It was nice to share my experiences with them and have them share their knowledge and experiences with me. We built friendships that will never end.


Gibson: The people and the relationships I built while I was there were the best parts of attending the camp.


How long have you been stationed at Fort Drum?


Barnes: Going on two years. I was in South Korea for one year prior to Fort Drum.


Gibson: Since October 2016. Before that I was in Liberia, West Africa for 10 months.


When did you join the Army?


Barnes: January 2014


Gibson: August 1992


Why did you decide to join the Army?


Barnes: I was in ROTC in high school, so when I was a senior I had two options: college or military. At that moment, I didn’t think I was ready to be in college. I decided the Army was something I wanted to experience.


Gibson: I was looking for a little bit of discipline. When I first joined I was a pretty smart kid, but I wasn’t taking care of business in the classroom. I wanted more direction and to gain more maturity before heading to college.


Could you talk about your experience in the Army?


Barnes: I went to Missouri for basic training, where I met a lot of great people. My platoon sergeant was the best. I was a knucklehead back then, and he kept me on track and molded me into the Soldier I knew I could be.


Gibson: I am in the Michigan Army National Guard. Being in the military has been a great experience for me. Meeting people from all over the nation and world has been incredible. One of the most important things for me is the discipline that comes from being in the military. I gained some maturity and direction, then went to college and did very well.


Anything else you’d like to add?


Barnes: I’ll tell you a little bit about my injuries. In October 2015, I was driving back to Fort Drum from Syracuse, N.Y. in an ice storm. I saw a car on the side of the road, so I stopped to help. After working together to get the stopped car started, I was hit by an oncoming SUV that hit black ice. After flying 10 feet into the air I hit my head on the pavement. I was then hit by three more cars causing my body to be pinned on the ground. This caused an 11-car pile-up. I was brought to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse where I was in a coma for five days. I woke up with no memory and was very agitated so I was put into an induced coma for two more days. When I woke up again I was calmer and my parents were there to be with me. I then started several different types of therapies to learn how to speak and walk again. At times it can be hard, but I look at this as a blessing because I could’ve died and I didn’t. People always tell me that they never see me without a smile on my face. I tell them that I have nothing to not smile about. I have my life.


Gibson: Before my deployment to Liberia, I became a teacher in the Detroit Public Schools. I received my master’s degree from Central Michigan University last Saturday and I plan to return to teaching this fall. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be part of Fort Drum’s Warrior Transition Battalion so I can properly take care of my injury before I return home to Detroit. One of my best experiences during my time at Fort Drum was learning how to swim. I needed to work out and swimming didn’t aggravate my injury. It was a great experience for me because I didn’t think I would ever learn how, if I hadn’t already.


For more information about the National Wounded Warrior Tennis Camp, visit sdwoundedwarriortennis.org.


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