Fort Jackson commander: Bogged down by bad news? SC Special Olympics is the cure. | Opinion

Many of us go through our lives similarly — dissatisfied with the state of affairs, personally and professionally. We don’t need tragedy to draw out those feelings. It’s enough to scroll across a heart-rending news article to ruin your day.

Bad weeks at work can spell trouble for optimism. Terrible news from distant parts of the world can sour any mood, and personal challenges often make us feel beholden to the whims of the wind.

But we can head off that dull malaise. We can seek ideas, situations, and events that inspire joy, highlight the best in humanity, and display unconditional happiness and love. We can minimize time spent in the mood accompanying issue resolution or grief and remember that there is still good in the world.

Maj. Gen. Jason Kelly
Maj. Gen. Jason Kelly

For me, Fort Jackson has much of that goodness to offer. Let me tell you the story of May 12, 2023.

The stark contrasts of that day were atypical. Early that afternoon, I attended a moving memorial service for a Fort Jackson Soldier we lost in a traffic fatality. But later, I donned my favorite uniform: my blue Fort Jackson athletic shirt and black PT shorts with ARMY emblazoned in gold on the left leg.

Arriving a little before 5 p.m. at the South Carolina State Capitol, I introduced myself to Special Olympics of South Carolina volunteers, athletes, and family members. We gathered to begin the torch relay from the Capitol to Fort Jackson.

When we arrived at the post, I was greeted by Travis Pringle, a softball player, who helped me lift the torch to light the cauldron. This was the 53rd year Fort Jackson welcomed the athletes, coaches, families, and volunteers for real fun, absolute joy, and honest competition.

The next day, I had a heartwarming encounter with Joseph “Joey” Gamble, a Special Olympics athlete. He proudly showed me his track and field medal and asked for my autograph. I was taken aback and deeply honored. I quickly found a notecard and penned my signature with a flourish. But Joey wasn’t done. He asked for a blank card so he could give me his autograph in return.

After signing his name, he drew a picture of himself with his medal. His unquenchable desire to spread joy was infectious and inspiring.

Joey is an inspiration, and every athlete exudes the same positive energy. Families are delighted to see their children and siblings doing what they love, and the volunteers and spectators share the cheeriness of seeing happy people do what they love, uninhibited by the small or big problems. The event was a refreshing reprieve from trivial inconveniences and our world’s sour realities.

I ask you to find the good things and use them to remind yourself that the world and life are not just an inconvenience, misfortune, or heartbreak.

Despite what some would call athletic challenges, the Special Olympians of South Carolina turned every opponent into an opportunity to innovate, a moment for joy, and a chance to share and spread love. They do this year-round: in practice, competition, and everyday life.

I have kept the energy from those memories at the forefront of my mind. I can quickly rebalance my emotions to that positivity just by looking at Joey’s signature and self-portrait.

If you need one of the best things the world offers, come to Fort Jackson for the Special Olympics 2024 State Summer Games May 10-12. You won’t regret it.

Maj. Gen. Jason Kelly is Commander of the U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C.