by Carrie Adams
When Team X-T.R.E.M.E. approached the start line, dramatically proceeded by a bagpiper, and followed by members of their community, the crowd couldn’t help but be captivated by the scene. They moved as a unit almost indecipherable in identity when donning their masks and kits. With the rest of the festival spectators I watched them silently, and as they filed past me I glanced down and noticed arm patches with a single word on each, a “call sign” derived from the 14 leadership traits that designate the embodiment and symbolism of the mission to that indoctrinated team member. They are worn by each athlete during the events. As they passed I saw Endurance, Sacrifice, Vigilance, Honor, and Courage and then, Justice... I paused when I saw the word. Powerful and dignified, I was curious to know who had chosen that designation and for what purpose.
Earlier in the week I asked Team X founder Jeremy Soles about the patches. He explained, “We each wear a name tape indicating our “call sign” on the shoulder of our uniforms.” He went on to describe how the wounded athletes and the rest of the team are identified. “In the mask, our Warriors Athletes are always identified as “Sacrifice”. Out of the mask they are the only ones that we allow to reveal their identity publicly.”
The athletes that support the mission are always kept secret, staging and donning their masks and also de-masking in a private location. Soles says, “This is keeping with the intent of the focus being on the wounded warrior and their empowerment instead of us as able body athletes. In the mask we are all a collective, living, and breathing representation of each of these leadership traits.”
When the masks came off and the team entered the festival grounds I was finally able to see the faces of the team members. Who we’d only known as “Justice” was at the back of the group, the 31 year old veteran of two deployments to OIF in Iraq with the United States Marine Corps was not only physically capable, mentally tough, and committed to the mission, but, I saw for the first time that Team X-T.R.E.M.E. member “Justice” also happens to be female. The only female that ran with the Team in Virginia.
Justice, whose real name will be withheld out of respect for the anonymity of the team and the commitment to their focus on their wounded comrades, has been a member of Team X since January when she went through the INDOC process. She was asked to join after 48 grueling hours of physical and psychological testing. The INDOC testing phase was the third and final stage of Team X-T.R.E.M.E.’s intense indoctrination process. The first step Justice underwent was the submission of a two minute video. Upon acceptance of the initial video submission there is an invitation to join the athlete community to show a candidate’s dedication to the organization by raising money and awareness. If proven in the community, the candidates are invited to participate in the Richmond, VA 48 hour test. The most recent INDOC with seven candidates actually resulted in no new team member invitations, a nod to the difficulty and exclusivity of the process.
Justice not only succeeded, she excelled, and has been a remarkable addition to the team. For her first Team X event and weighing in at just over 120 pounds she carried 45% of her body weight for 26.2 miles through the New Mexico high desert while wearing a gas mask at the 2012 Bataan Death March. At the Spartan Race in Leesburg she carried almost 90% of her body weight with wounded warrior athlete USMC Cpl. Todd Love on her back throughout the course rotating with the rest of the male-based team every half mile. Not once did she miss her turn to carry the weight, not once did she falter or complain.
Justice isn’t a stranger to hard work. After seeing part of an OCS exercise while interning for a government official, the South Carolina native knew that the Marines was the place for her. And after joining the summer after 9/11 she ultimately would serve two deployments as a marine officer. Her first deployment in 2004 was as an Air Support Control Officer near Ramadi, Iraq (Al Anbar province). Her job was to coordinate and direct fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft for troops in contact (air support) and MEDEVACs/CASEVACs. Her second deployment was in 2006 to Al Qa’im, Iraq, near the Syrian border where she served as an Air Support Element Officer-in-Charge in support of 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.
“It does not make physiological sense how she does it, how she endures… that is why she is perfect for the Team X-T.R.E.M.E. mission,” says Soles. “Her actions defy conscious logic and her power source is passion for her wounded brethren.”
When asked about the Spartan Race in Leesburg, VA and the incredible performance of the collective team she said, “You don’t think about it you just do it. We had the equipment and we had each other. There was never a point where we couldn’t get it done. Time wasn’t a consideration, it was completion. We completed our mission.”
In choosing her call sign, Justice stood out in her mind because of the veterans from past and current generations who haven’t seen the justice she believes they have deserved. “So many wounded Veterans from so many generations haven’t seen justice to the extent we wish we could have provided them when they came home.” She goes on to say, “That one we need to keep in the front of our minds; getting them the support that they deserve and are taken care of by a grateful nation.”
She says she was aware of the impact the team had on the crowds as they passed, but that it was emotional on many levels. “There were points where I was more aware of it than other times.” She paused, “When Todd climbed up the hill… and with everyone around the start and finish. Hearing the cheering, the kids waving at us, people watching us pass by… that by itself was exciting and motivating. I wish I could take it all in, but it was almost sensory overload.”
Justice will be back in the mask in a couple weeks at the Heartbreak Ridge half marathon at Camp Pendleton. Her day job keeps her on the move as well so she strives for balance as she supports the team and the wounded warrior athletes. Married to a former Naval officer, she stays active in her off time and is humble about what she’s done and will continue to do with her dedication to the mission of the Team.
Soles sums it up best when speaking of Justice, “Like the rest of the team, when pain veils itself over her, it is then that she finds the core of our mission and endures with one intent: To honor the sacrifice of wounded warriors and to set a precedent that will be contagious to all who bear witness. ”