Thousands converge for Kadena Special Olympics 2015

Participants, volunteers and observers of the Kadena Special Olympics release balloons into the air as the games begin Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Beginning in 2000 with approximately 400 athletes and 600 volunteers, KSO is an 18th Wing community goodwill initiative to strengthen Japan-U.S. relationships. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)

Participants, volunteers and observers of the Kadena Special Olympics release balloons into the air as the games begin Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Beginning in 2000 with approximately 400 athletes and 600 volunteers, KSO is an 18th Wing community goodwill initiative to strengthen Japan-U.S. relationships. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Christopher Amrhein, 18th Wing vice commander, gives a medal to Mirai Tamanaha, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The KSO is a one-day sporting, art and entertainment event with more than 880 athletes and artists participating in a day of competition, music and special recognition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Christopher Amrhein, 18th Wing vice commander, gives a medal to Mirai Tamanaha, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The KSO is a one-day sporting, art and entertainment event with more than 880 athletes and artists participating in a day of competition, music and special recognition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

Yukitoshi Iriishigaki, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, cheers after throwing a softball during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. KSO is a non-profit activity managed by volunteers from around the island and funded by donations as a goodwill initiative to give back to those with special needs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen/Relased)

Yukitoshi Iriishigaki, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, cheers after throwing a softball during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. KSO is a non-profit activity managed by volunteers from around the island and funded by donations as a goodwill initiative to give back to those with special needs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen/Relased)

Yuri Yonaha, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, draws on a canvas while her mother observes at the art exhibit during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Thousands of spectators from Japan and the U.S. came out to support approximately 880 athletes and artists participating in the 16th annual KSO games and art show. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

Yuri Yonaha, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, draws on a canvas while her mother observes at the art exhibit during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Thousands of spectators from Japan and the U.S. came out to support approximately 880 athletes and artists participating in the 16th annual KSO games and art show. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Amiya Jones, 18th Security Forces Squadron armorer, helps Yuri Yonaha, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, with her badminton skills during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. This year marks the 16th anniversary of KSO, a sporting event dedicated to enriching the lives of American and Okinawan special needs individuals on the island. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Amiya Jones, 18th Security Forces Squadron armorer, helps Yuri Yonaha, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, with her badminton skills during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. This year marks the 16th anniversary of KSO, a sporting event dedicated to enriching the lives of American and Okinawan special needs individuals on the island. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

Michiko Nakasone and other Kadena Special Olympics athletes are cheered and applauded by a crowd as they arrive at the Risner Fitness Center Sports Complex Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Approximately 1,700 volunteers helped nearly 900 athletes arrive to their events and compete in the largest overseas Special Olympics event in the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)

Michiko Nakasone and other Kadena Special Olympics athletes are cheered and applauded by a crowd as they arrive at the Risner Fitness Center Sports Complex Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Approximately 1,700 volunteers helped nearly 900 athletes arrive to their events and compete in the largest overseas Special Olympics event in the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish, 18th Wing commander, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Dolan, 5th Air Force commander, and Masaru Machida, Okinawa Prefectural Government Executive Office of the Governor director general, stand as the U.S. National Anthem is played during the Kadena Special Olympics opening ceremony Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The KSO is sponsored by the 18th Wing and the Friends of Kadena Special Olympics in partnership with the Okinawa Prefectural Government, Okinawa City, Kadena Town, Chatan Town and all U.S. military services on island. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish, 18th Wing commander, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Dolan, 5th Air Force commander, and Masaru Machida, Okinawa Prefectural Government Executive Office of the Governor director general, stand as the U.S. National Anthem is played during the Kadena Special Olympics opening ceremony Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The KSO is sponsored by the 18th Wing and the Friends of Kadena Special Olympics in partnership with the Okinawa Prefectural Government, Okinawa City, Kadena Town, Chatan Town and all U.S. military services on island. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 18th Wing Honor Guard present the colors during the Kadena Special Olympics opening ceremony Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Established by the 18th Wing commander in 2000, KSO is a wholesome sporting and entertainment event that provides an opportunity for all communities involved to stand together in support of people with special needs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 18th Wing Honor Guard present the colors during the Kadena Special Olympics opening ceremony Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Established by the 18th Wing commander in 2000, KSO is a wholesome sporting and entertainment event that provides an opportunity for all communities involved to stand together in support of people with special needs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

Participants and volunteers of the Kadena Special Olympics parade down the Risner Fitness Center field during the event’s opening ceremony Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. KSO is a non-profit activity managed by volunteers from around the island and funded by donations as a goodwill initiative to give back to those with special needs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)

Participants and volunteers of the Kadena Special Olympics parade down the Risner Fitness Center field during the event’s opening ceremony Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. KSO is a non-profit activity managed by volunteers from around the island and funded by donations as a goodwill initiative to give back to those with special needs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)

U.S. Air Force firefighters from the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron spray a water arch over a bus filled with Kadena Special Olympics athletes as they arrive at the Risner Fitness Center Sports Complex Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The KSO began in 2000 with approximately 400 athletes and 600 volunteers as an 18th Wing community goodwill initiative to strengthen U.S. - Okinawa relationships. After 16 years, the event has more than doubled in size and participation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)
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U.S. Air Force firefighters from the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron spray a water arch over a bus filled with Kadena Special Olympics athletes as they arrive at the Risner Fitness Center Sports Complex Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The KSO began in 2000 with approximately 400 athletes and 600 volunteers as an 18th Wing community goodwill initiative to strengthen U.S. - Okinawa relationships. After 16 years, the event has more than doubled in size and participation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)

Hundreds of volunteers and spectators of the Kadena Special Olympics form a human pathway to greet and cheer on arriving athletes as they are shuttled to the Risner Fitness Center Sports Complex Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Thousands of spectators from Japan and the U.S. came out to support approximately 880 athletes and artists participating in the 16th annual KSO games and art show. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)
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Hundreds of volunteers and spectators of the Kadena Special Olympics form a human pathway to greet and cheer on arriving athletes as they are shuttled to the Risner Fitness Center Sports Complex Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Thousands of spectators from Japan and the U.S. came out to support approximately 880 athletes and artists participating in the 16th annual KSO games and art show. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)

Kohei Setake, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, wins first place in a 200 meter dash during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Established by the 18th Wing commander in 2000, KSO is a sporting and entertainment event that provides an opportunity for all communities involved to stand together in support of people with special needs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen)
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Kohei Setake, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, wins first place in a 200 meter dash during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Established by the 18th Wing commander in 2000, KSO is a sporting and entertainment event that provides an opportunity for all communities involved to stand together in support of people with special needs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen)

Volunteers dressed in costumes greet Kadena Special Olympics athletes as they make their way to the Risner Fitness Center Sports Complex Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. This year marks the 16th anniversary of KSO, a sporting event dedicated to enriching the lives of American and Okinawan special needs individuals on the island. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)
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Volunteers dressed in costumes greet Kadena Special Olympics athletes as they make their way to the Risner Fitness Center Sports Complex Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. This year marks the 16th anniversary of KSO, a sporting event dedicated to enriching the lives of American and Okinawan special needs individuals on the island. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Released)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Charles Hoffman, 18th Wing command chief master sergeant, presents a medal to Yukitoshi Iriishigaki, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, for winning first place in the softball skills tournament during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. KSO was established by the 18th Wing commander in 2000 as an avenue to build relations with the local communities and government representatives while providing a meaningful activity for members of the special needs community on Okinawa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen/Released)
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U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Charles Hoffman, 18th Wing command chief master sergeant, presents a medal to Yukitoshi Iriishigaki, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, for winning first place in the softball skills tournament during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. KSO was established by the 18th Wing commander in 2000 as an avenue to build relations with the local communities and government representatives while providing a meaningful activity for members of the special needs community on Okinawa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Anthony Sojka, 18th Component Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion apprentice, runs with Teisan Scarborough, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Approximately 1700 volunteers helped nearly 900 athletes arrive to their events and compete in the largest overseas Special Olympics in the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen/Released)
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U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Anthony Sojka, 18th Component Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion apprentice, runs with Teisan Scarborough, a Kadena Special Olympics athlete, during the Kadena Special Olympics Nov. 7, 2015, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Approximately 1700 volunteers helped nearly 900 athletes arrive to their events and compete in the largest overseas Special Olympics in the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Lynette M. Rolen/Released)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --

Approximately 1,700 volunteers from different branches of the U.S. military and the local community helped with the 16th annual Kadena Special Olympic Games Nov. 7 at the Risner Fitness Center Sports Complex here.

The games were held as an opportunity for more than 850 special needs athletes and their families within the Okinawan community to join Team Kadena in a day full of competitive sports and festivities.

"The Kadena Special Olympics is world renowned," said Lt. Gen. John Dolan, U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force commander. "The 16 years that it's been going on has built each year, and I think it's proven its worth with how it's reached out to the community."

The event was off to a loud start when hundreds of volunteers and spectators formed a human pathway to greet and cheer on the arriving athletes as they were shuttled to the fitness center.

The games kicked off with an opening ceremony where Dolan, Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish, 18th Wing commander, and Masaru Machida, Okinawa Prefectural Government Executive Office of the Governor director general, shared words of encouragement to the athletes.

During the ceremony, Cornish led the crowd in taking the “athlete's oath,” a tradition that was once repeated by Greek warriors before going into battle, with the common goal to compete with their best efforts and push themselves to new heights.

"The oath states 'let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt' that's just inspiring to all of us," Cornish said. "It's a very emotional day for everybody. When you see these people struggling and doing their very best and you get to put a medal around their neck, it's just a humbling experience."

Each competitor was paired with an athlete's buddy for the day, a volunteer who was designated to watch over and cheer the player throughout the various sport activities.

Other volunteers helped in a variety of duties including translation, score keeping, medal presentations, logistical and medical support and food preparation and distribution.

Athletes competed in a variety of events throughout the day, to include track and field, soccer, ground golf and tennis. Approximately 270 athletes and other special needs participants applied their creativity and displayed pieces of artwork in an art gallery held inside the Risner Fitness Center.

As the base's largest annual event comes to a close, plans for next year's KSO are soon to begin. Volunteers, both U.S. and Okinawan, are already coordinating dozens of other events and gatherings to raise awareness for KSO 2016.

"The greatest part about the Kadena Special Olympics is that it's an expression of our American values and what we want the local people here to know about us," Cornish said. "The athletes are going to get a lot out of it, but I think it's the people who volunteer and the people who contribute who will get even more out of it."