Hooah! As I walked the halls of ESPN Wide World of Sports this week, I could feel the inspiring energy from hundreds of elite athletes from across the United States Armed Forces and allied nations as they compete during the 2022 Department of Defense Warrior Games. And as cast members, we have a front row seat to the action!
For many, this event holds a special place in their hearts – like cast member Kim Burke, who served in the U.S. Army before becoming a Disney Security K9 Handler working alongside her ‘pawtner’ canine Pixie. As a third-generation military veteran, she knew she wanted to do more during the Games so she and her father Tom- who also served in the U.S. Army- volunteered together as greeters at the Orlando International Airport welcoming the athletes and their families.
Kim’s inspiration to join the military originated with grandparents on both sides of her family, who served in the Army and Air Force. “Knowing we had a legacy, a tradition, that tied us together and bound us to our country, it was an honor to uphold tradition and join and serve.”
Now Kim is leaving a legacy here at Walt Disney World, “Disney hires a lot of veterans for the many attributes we acquire while in the military.” As a security K9 handler, Kim attributes the skills she uses on the job to the Army and is thankful to be able to use what she learned from the military in her role.
Kim has also been able to connect with fellow Veterans through the SALUTE Business Employee Resource Group. This group has allowed her to be mentored, build relationships and participate in events throughout the year.
Jennifer Lewis, a coordinator at Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, attended the Warrior Games opening ceremony with her fellow cast members through Magic Backstage, an exclusive sweepstakes program just for cast. Jennifer had wanted to attend the Warrior Games over the past few years, to honor her father, who served in Vietnam.
“I try to support our armed forces in any way I can,” she explained. “The Warrior Games represents our veteran families, and I am proud to be here.”
Jennifer’s favorite moment of the night was seeing all branches of the armed forces represented – along with many military families.
Adrian Mandry, a chef at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and former U.S. Marine, shares Kim and Jennifer’s excitement in supporting this year’s Warrior Games. Having joined the Marine Corps at 19 years old, Adrian attributes his service and the values he learned while in the military- honor, courage, and commitment- as laying the foundation for the leader he is today.
Prior to enlisting, Adrian’s first job was at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe at Magic Kingdom Park. He later became a cook in an infantry unit and upon his honorable discharge, he decided to go to culinary school, where his passion for the culinary arts grew. It was also there that he learned the importance of guest service. “I carried those learnings to every job I held after the Corps, so when the chance became available to return to Disney, I took it without hesitation.”
Chef Adrian is grateful for opportunities to engage with other veterans and support them in competitions. “Seeing so many service members around the Sports Complex, can only be described as – inspiring.”
And inspiring is exactly what this event is. There’s still time to cheer on these amazing athletes at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex through Aug. 28. Additional details on these events and the upcoming Closing Ceremonies can be found at DoDWarriorGames.com. And stay tuned to the Disney Parks Blog as we bring you into the action every step of the way.