Tag Archives: Wounded Warriors

Wounded warriors compete in the Army Trials for spots in the 2016 Warrior Games

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

About 125 wounded, ill and injured active-duty Soldiers and Army veterans from across the country competed March 6-10 in the Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas. The athletes are seeking the opportunity to represent Team Army at the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games, which will be held June 14-22 at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

During the week of competition, wounded warriors competed in archery, cycling, track and field, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming and wheelchair basketball. Coaches and leaders will now assess the results, and the chosen athletes will receive an official invitation to join Team Army. Approximately 250 athletes representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Special Operations Command will compete in the DoD Warrior Games this year.

Recovery through sports

The trials are part of the Army Warrior Care and Transition program, which aids in the recovery of wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans as they transition back into the force or the civilian community.

“Our adaptive reconditioning program is a critical part of warriors’ transition,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew T. Brady, command sergeant major for the Warrior Transition Command, in an interview with the NCO Journal last year. “It’s not just a sports program. It’s a program of activity in support of the surgeon general’s Performance Triad — sleep, proper nutrition and activity. For many of these Soldiers, this is kind of their ‘new norm’ — picking up activities they may have never tried before. It’s a new outlet. So if you look at the shooting, it takes concentration, the ability to block out distractions, a great amount of discipline — and these are all things that set you up for other tasks in life.”

In addition to aiding in their physical and mental recovery, these sports give Soldiers a new passion and something to look forward to doing when they leave the military, Brady said. Veterans Affairs and civilian organizations offer adaptive sports programs all over the nation, and sponsors often help defray the cost. Transition coordinators within every Warrior Transition Unit work to connect Soldiers with these organizations when they leave, Brady said, as should NCOs across the Army as they help injured and ill Soldiers prepare for life outside the military.

“We have them for maybe two years, but these Soldiers will be veterans for the rest of their lives,” Brady said. “We have got to set them up for success down the road.

“I hope NCOs realize I only have a certain number of these individuals in this Integrated Disability Evaluation System process — I only have a fraction of them. The majority of them are out in the force. They are out in the force and being led by NCOs, and as they go through the challenges of recovery, these same sports are available to them. What I need NCOs to do is to support this type of activity because that individual is going to leave our military, and we don’t want them becoming sedentary. We don’t want them leaving and feeling like they don’t have something to look forward to. I need NCOs’ support.”

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  • Army Trials at Fort Bliss
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  • Army Trials at Fort Bliss
  • Army Trials at Fort Bliss

(U.S. Army photos and photos by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

Athletes on Army team remain confident as they prepare for Warrior Games

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

Wounded warrior athletes on the Army team are more confident than ever that they will take home the Chairman’s Cup again this year at the conclusion of the Department of Defense Warrior Games, which will take place from June 19-28 at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Va.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith, a member of the Army team, swims laps during training for the 2014 Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Kaily Brown / U.S. Army)
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith, a member of the Army team, swims laps during training for the 2014 Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Kaily Brown / U.S. Army)

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith, who this year will compete in the games for the second time, said there is no doubt in his mind that the Army will leave the games again with the cup, which is awarded to the service branch with the highest medal total. “Last year was the first year that we won the Chairman’s Cup, so I’m definitely looking forward to competing against the other branches and bringing that trophy home again.”

Smith is among the 40 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans picked to defend the Army’s title against the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command and the British armed forces. The athletes were selected from about 75 veterans and active-duty Soldiers who competed in March during the Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas, in cycling, shooting, archery, track and field, wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball and swimming.

Smith, who will compete in swimming, track, field, cycling and sitting volleyball, said he speaks for the whole team when he says he is proud to have been selected.

“It means everything to me to represent the Army at the Warrior Games, because I believe in the Army. If it wasn’t for the Army, I wouldn’t be the type of man I am today. I wouldn’t be the father that I am today. I wouldn’t be the friend I am today. So to be able to represent something I truly believe in and love is an honor.”

This will be the first year that the games are hosted by a service branch instead of at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Though the majority of the crowd in Quantico will be cheering on the Marine Corps, Smith said he and his teammates are not worried.

“That makes it that much sweeter – to beat them in their own house,” Smith said. “I can’t wait to smash them again and look them in the eyes and tell them that we beat them on their home turf. I’m looking forward to that.”

Recovery through sports

The athletes train for the games as part of the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command’s  Army Warrior Care and Transition program, which aids in the recovery of wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans as they prepare themselves for life back in the force or as civilians.

Smith retrieves a volleyball during practice for the 2014 Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo by Spc. Charles M. Bailey / U.S. Army)
Smith retrieves a volleyball during practice for the 2014 Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo by Spc. Charles M. Bailey / U.S. Army)

Smith is the first Soldier with an above-the-elbow amputation to remain on active duty, and he credits the sports program for his success.

In 2011, Smith’s motorcycle was rear-ended. He flew over a freeway median, then was hit by an oncoming truck before crashing into the ground. He is blessed to be alive, Smith said, and is grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve.

“If it wasn’t for the Warrior Transition Command and the Warrior Games, and everything they provide, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in now,” Smith said.

In December, Smith began his duties as a recruiting center commander in Little Rock, Ark. He is in charge of 25 NCO recruiters, and said he is aware of how much they look up to him. He hopes that, through his example, they will see that an injury in no way lessens a leader’s influence.

“No matter your situation – whether it is physical, mental, emotional or whatever the case may be – Soldiers still look up to you,” Smith said. “If you are an NCO, a noncommissioned officer, you are still supposed to lead from the front – no matter what. That is my whole reason for coming back to active duty. I’m a leader. I’m a senior NCO. I didn’t make E7 by sleeping. The Army instilled in me the leadership skills that I have, and I want to continue to lead.”

Always striving for a new goal

Even after all Smith has accomplished, he has not stopped creating fresh goals for himself.

He hopes to one day work for the Warrior Transition Command to recruit other athletes, set up camps and motivate wounded warriors. He said he knows that if they can be inspired to give it their best, they will be competitive in their sports, in their recovery and in life.

“If you can learn to swim with one arm, learn to run with a prosthetic, if you can tackle that goal and defeat that, any other obstacle that comes your way in life, you are going to take that same approach, and just know that you can do it,” Smith said.

Smith is also still striving toward new goals as an athlete. He has been training to join the USA Skeleton Sled team, and is determined to take home the title of “Ultimate Warrior” from next year’s Warrior Games.

“I would have to place in every event they offer. It’s something I wanted to go for this year, but because I am working in recruiting, I didn’t have the ability to go to any shooting camps. Next year, that is definitely my goal. I will be the Ultimate Warrior next year. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Following is a list of athletes on the 2015 Army team. The list is subject to change. For more information and to view coach and team-member bios, click here.

·         Staff Sgt. Ashley Anderson, Fort Riley, Kan.

·         Spc. Anthony Atemon, Fort Bragg, N.C.

·         Staff Sgt. Thomas Ayers, Clarksville, Tenn.

·         Spc. Dustin Barr, Fort Bragg, N.C.

·         Capt. Frank Barroqueiro, Gainesville, Ga.

·         Capt. Steven Bortle, Pearl City, Hawaii

·         Spc. Terry Cartwright, Fort Belvoir, Va.

·         Spc. Laurel Cox, Fort Belvoir, Va.

·         Spc. Sydney Davis, Fort Belvoir, Va.

·         1st Lt. Kelly Elmlinger, Joint Base San Antonio

·         Staff Sgt. Randi Gavell, Oklahoma City, Okla.

·         Sgt. 1st Class Samantha Goldenstein, Saint Robert, Miss.

·         Sgt. Colton Harms, Fort Riley, Kan.

·         Sgt. Sean Hook, Summerville, S.C.

·         Sgt. Blake Johnson, Bethesda, Md.

·         Staff Sgt. Sean Johnson, Aberdeen, S.D.

·         Sgt. Kawaiola Nahale, Fort Shafter, Hawaii

·         Spc. Chasity Kuczer, Fort Knox, Ky.

·         Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper, San Antonio, Texas

·         Spc. Stefan Leroy, Bethesda, Md.

·         Staff Sgt. Monica Martinez, Bethesda, Md.

·         Staff Sgt. Andrew McCaffrey, Arlington, Va.

·         Staff Sgt. Michael McPhall, Bethesda, Md.

·         Staff Sgt. Billy Meeks, Las Cruces, N.M.

·         Cpl. Mathew Mueller, Fort Carson, Colo.

·         Master Sgt. Rhoden Galloway, San Antonio, Texas

·         Staff Sgt. Eric Pardo, San Antonio, Texas

·         1st Lt. Christopher Parks, Fort Hood, Texas

·         Staff Sgt. Timothy Payne, Raleigh, N.C.

·         Cpl. Jasmine Perry, Fort Campbell, Ky.

·         Sgt. Zedrik Pitts, Birmingham, Ala.

·         Spc. Haywood Range, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

·         Capt. Will Reynolds, Bethesda, Md.

·         Staff Sgt. Alexander Shaw, Clarksville, Tenn.

·         Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Sifuentes, Fort Riley, Kan.

·         Staff Sgt. Monica Southall, Henrico, Va.

·         Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith, Little Rock, Ark

·         Sgt. Patrick Timmins, Colorado Springs, Colo.

·         Sgt. Nicholas Titman, Fort Carson, Colo.

·         Sgt. Ricardo Villalobos, Winston Salem, N.C.

Coaches and athletes huddle before basketball practice during the Army Trials at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, on March 28, 2015. (Photo by EJ Hersom / DoD News)
Coaches and athletes huddle before basketball practice during the Army Trials at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, on March 28, 2015. (Photo by EJ Hersom / DoD News)

Wounded Soldiers compete in Army Trials for a shot at the Warrior Games

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal
Retired Sgt. Scotty Hasting prepares for the archery event of the Army Trials on March 31 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Retired Sgt. Scotty Hasting prepares for the archery event of the Army Trials on March 31 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

Retired Sgt. Scotty Hasting closed his eyes, blocking out the surrounding distractions. He took a deep breath and focused on the feel of the bow in his hand before opening his eyes and letting his arrow fly during the Army Trials on March 31 at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Hasting was one of about 75 active-duty Soldiers and veterans who competed from March 29 to April 2 in cycling, shooting, archery, track and field, wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball and swimming for spots on the Army team headed to the Department of Defense Warrior Games in June. Only 40 athletes will be selected to defend the Army’s title against the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Special Operations Command during the competition at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Va.

The Marines won the Chairman’s Cup, presented to the top overall service branch, at the first four Warrior Games, but the Army took the cup for the first time in 2014.

“You know the Marine Corps makes a lot of noise, but we speak through performance,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew T. Brady, command sergeant major for the Warrior Transition Command. “They’ll have home turf, but we look to keep our cup.”

Recovery through sports

The trials, conducted by the Warrior Transition Command, are part of the Army Warrior Care and Transition program, which aids in the recovery of wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans as they transition back into the force or the civilian community.

Master Sgt. Shawn Vosburg, assigned to the WTB at Fort Bliss, takes aim during the rifle event of the Army Trials on March 30 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Master Sgt. Shawn Vosburg, assigned to the WTB at Fort Bliss, takes aim during the rifle event of the Army Trials on March 30 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

“Our adaptive reconditioning program is a critical part of warriors’ transition,” Brady said. “It’s not just a sports program. It’s a program of activity in support of the surgeon general’s Performance Triad – sleep, proper nutrition and activity. For many of these Soldiers, this is kind of their ‘new norm’ – picking up activities they may have never tried before. It’s a new outlet. So if you look at the shooting, it takes concentration, the ability to block out distractions, a great amount of discipline – and these are all things that set you up for other tasks in life.”

In addition to aiding in their physical and mental recovery, these sports give Soldiers a new passion and something to look forward to doing when they leave the military, Brady said. Veterans Affairs and civilian organizations offer adaptive sports programs all over the nation, and sponsors often help defray the cost. Transition coordinators within every Warrior Transition Unit work to connect Soldiers with these organizations when they leave, Brady said, as should NCOs across the Army as they help injured and ill Soldiers prepare for life outside the military.

“We have them for maybe two years, but these Soldiers will be veterans for the rest of their lives,” Brady said. “We have got to set them up for success down the road.

“I hope NCOs realize I only have a certain number of these individuals in this Integrated Disability Evaluation System process — I only have a fraction of them. The majority of them are out in the force. They are out in the force and being led by NCOs, and as they go through the challenges of recovery, these same sports are available to them. What I need NCOs to do is to support this type of activity because that individual is going to leave our military, and we don’t want them becoming sedentary. We don’t want them leaving and feeling like they don’t have something to look forward to. I need NCOs’ support.”

Mentoring others

Spc. Sydney Davis, assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Va., prepares to throw the shotput during the Army Warrior Trials on April 1 at Fort Bliss.  (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Spc. Sydney Davis, assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Va., prepares to throw the shotput during the Army Warrior Trials on April 1 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

Many of the NCOs leaving the Warrior Transition Battalion have found a new use for their leadership skills within civilian and veteran adaptive sports programs, Brady said.

“In the Army, we make leaders,” he said. “That’s just what we do. And these civilian organizations have individuals who grew up with challenges, were born with challenges or may have gotten it by the result of some kind of trauma. … Now, our Soldier is going to have the opportunity as a veteran to be in this same group with them and provide mentorship – they will be able to use those leadership skills to be a mentor to a young child, for example, who has never known what it is like to walk.”

Training for the Warrior Games has helped Hasting recover from the 10 gunshot wounds he suffered in Afghanistan – five in the shoulder and five in the hip – and he is eager to help others, he said, to overcome the challenges he knows too well.

“The NCO inside of me wants to help all these other people who are down,” Hasting said. “The values that are instilled in us as NCOs, the way that we are programmed – it’s not about us; it’s more about trying to help everyone else out.

“If you’re having troubles, I’ve been there. It’s hard to get back up and back at it. But it will work out better in the long run if you just get up and do something. As an NCO, I try to push that.”

If he is chosen for the team, this will be Hasting’s second year at the Warrior Games, and he said he seeks out opportunities to mentor others wanting to shoot competitively.

“Archery is my favorite – when everything else is going on, for the time that you are shooting, it’s just you and that bow,” he said. “Nothing else matters. That’s why I gravitate toward archery. It’s that outlet for me.”

A new normal

Sgt. Joshua Palmer can attest to the life-changing aspect of an adaptive sports program. For him, smaller injuries built upon one another, eventually leading to a debilitating condition that would end his military aspirations. During the Special Forces selection process, Palmer shattered his ankles and had to have both completely reconstructed.

Staff Sgt. Max Hasson, assigned to the WTB in Fort Carson, Colo., throws during the seated discus event of the Army Trials on April 1 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Max Hasson, assigned to the WTB in Fort Carson, Colo., throws during the seated discus event of the Army Trials on April 1 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

“You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” he said. “When you spend eight months on bed rest, it’s a really humbling experience. If I wanted something to eat, I would literally have to low-crawl to the kitchen and sit on the floor by the fridge and eat an apple.”

Palmer had to accept that he could no longer be an engineer deep-sea diver. He would never join Special Forces. His career had come to a halt.

The adaptive sports program gave him his life back.

“I never thought I would be this active again,” he said. “Never.”

He went from not being able to walk to competing in almost every event of the Army Trials. The experience taught him a lot, he said, about the kind of leadership a Soldier needs while recovering. Encouragement is key, he said, but it is also important to not push an individual too far.

“If an NCO has a good Soldier who gets hurt, he or she needs to allow that Soldier time to recover,” he said. “Listen to him. Be genuine, and take the time to get to know him. Know his 100 percent, and then know his injury 100 percent. And be respectful of that, because you can hurt that Soldier in the long run if you push him to be too active.”

Palmer is retiring soon, but he said if he were going back into his field, he would take a more active role in his Soldiers’ health and well-being.

“I would be more involved,” Palmer said. “I would go with them to their initial appointments, follow up with their doctors. I’d get reports from their doctors on how they are doing, so that the way I talk to and encourage the Soldier is in-line with the doctor’s recommendations. I would be much more respectful and understanding of that Soldier’s recovery, because now I have been there.”

Sgt. Kawaiola Nahale, assigned to the 311th Signal Command, swims the 25-meter breaststroke during the Army Trials on April 2 at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Sgt. Kawaiola Nahale, assigned to the 311th Signal Command, swims the 25-meter breaststroke during the Army Trials on April 2 at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

Former Army NCO directs film showing determination of wounded veterans

From ABC News:

Former Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Curtis is the oldest in a family of seven siblings. Growing up, a career in Hollywood seemed out of reach.

“When I was young, being a film director was not a legit career. People didn’t understand that being a director was a viable career option and my family was like, ‘You’re going to be a doctor, or you’re going to be in the medical field,’” Curtis said.

His father was in the Army National Guard and it was during one of his father’s weekend drills that Curtis visited him and he ended up enlisting in the Army after taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.

“I took it on a whim. I was like, this sounds like fun and I can use some adventure in my life,” Curtis said.

Ryan joined the Army in 2001 and served as a combat engineer for eight years from 2001 until 2009. After leaving the Army, he moved to Las Vegas and started working in the entertainment business as an actor and model doing local commercials. He then realized that he would much rather be on the other side of the camera.

Read more →

Boxing gloves help amputees learn strength and confidence

By MICHAEL L. LEWIS
NCO Journal

For the more than 1,000 Soldiers who’ve lost a limb during combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, the road to recovery is long and hard. Learning how to walk, use the restroom, cook, shop and change the baby’s diaper again requires retraining the body, mind and spirit. And one of the best ways to accomplish this training, according to a team at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., is with boxing gloves.

“This is more than just going on a trip or playing sports, it’s about giving [amputee] Soldiers life, and giving back a sense of normalcy after their procedure,” said Harvey Naranjo, the Military Adaptive Sports Program coordinator at Walter Reed. “We are providing a treatment, not just a fun extracurricular activity. Our goal is for them to learn everything they need to learn so they can apply it once they leave here.”

Sgt. Eric Hunter (right) practices punch combinations with David Sheehi, a volunteer coach with the boxing adaptive sports program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., in July.
Sgt. Eric Hunter (right), who lost a leg in combat, practices punch combinations to help regain his balance with David Sheehi, a volunteer coach with the boxing adaptive sports program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., in July. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)

The program, housed under the rehabilitation department at the nation’s premier center for wounded warrior care, is designed to help service members learn to use different muscles to compensate for the loss of a limb. Through the varied mechanics of sports such as archery, rowing, skiing and lacrosse, combined with field trips into real-world settings, Soldiers develop strength and agility, especially those learning to walk with prostheses, Naranjo said. But nothing develops balance and confidence like adaptive boxing, said Sgt. Eric Hunter of the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Ky., a recent program participant.

“The hardest thing for me with my prosthetic was just being confident in myself,” he said. “I was able to stand up. But in my head, I guess, I was just scared to. Definitely, boxing has helped build confidence in my balance. When you first come in here, you can throw maybe one punch, and then you’re falling down, trying to gather your balance again. After being down here, I’m pretty much able to stand up the whole time. I may lose my balance a couple times, but it’s been a tremendous improvement.”

That confidence helps those in the program be better NCOs, said Staff Sgt. Nick Lavery, a program participant from the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“I think this program creates a better leader, and it trains future leaders as they are developing into NCOs,” he said. “It breeds mental toughness and confidence in what your body is able to do. It’s a direct translation to what we do professionally: You’re building a skill set that you’re able to take back to your professional environment.”

The training also develops a different style of leadership, Lavery said.

“It’s a humbling sport for sure,” he said. “A lot of military guys are type-A, confident dudes, and they don’t want to necessarily take a risk or the chance of going into a situation where they may not feel so superior. But once you’re able to get past that kind of mental block, and you take that humbled approach, you’ll realize huge benefits.”

 

Intense — physically and mentally

Though the program trains participants in the basics of boxing, the goal is not to create the next Floyd Mayweather Jr., said David Sheehi, a boxing coach who volunteers with the program.

“It’s not about fighting. We’re not really trying to teach them how to go into the ring and do this for a living,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is just use the sport in a positive way — the fitness part of it. In boxing, those athletes are some of the fittest in the world. When you try to train a football player or baseball player to be a boxer, they just can’t do it. They’ll go three or four minutes and just get tired out.”

Boxing provides a physical and mental workout that is not easily matched, Sheehi said.

Marine Corps Sgt. Ryan Donnelly (left) practices punch combinations with Michael Martin, a volunteer coach with Walter Reed's boxing adaptive sports program. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)
Marine Corps Sgt. Ryan Donnelly (left) practices punch combinations with Michael Martin, a volunteer coach with Walter Reed’s boxing adaptive sports program. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)

“It’s a very strenuous activity, and it keeps them in shape without running,” he said. “A lot of them can’t run yet, and they can’t do the ellipticals or bicycles yet either. So what do we do? What we do is we work the upper body. It works just as well, it burns just as many calories as just doing the lower body, and it keeps their weight down.”

The intensity surprises many, said Sgt. Christopher Hemwall, a participant formerly with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany.

“My first day, I spent two hours working down here,” he said. “The next day, I woke up, and I couldn’t move my left arm or my back at all — I was so sore. So that was surprising. No one warned me about that.”

Because participants don’t fight each other — they work individually with coaches on various punch positions and combinations — even those with traumatic brain injury can participate and reap the benefits, Sheehi said.

“They never spar. We have no contact at all,” he said. “Because the purpose of this is not for competition, it’s therapy, that’s why it’s very safe, even for TBI patients. Originally, they didn’t even want TBI patients to touch this — no way! So we had to show them that it helps TBI patients with the thinking process as we throw numbers of combinations out.”

The moves and training also reinforce soldiering skills many participants feel have faded as they’ve worked through the laborious rehabilitation process, Sheehi said.

“A lot of them feel vulnerable now that they have a prosthesis or are missing a limb,” he said. “So we show them how to dodge a punch and how to counter a punch. It doesn’t matter [that they’ve lost a limb], because all the power comes from your hips, not the legs. As long as they’ve got that, they can do this and be just as good at it as someone with uninjured legs and arms. When they see that, you can see the look in their face: ‘Wow, I am somebody. I can do just like I did before.’”

Hemwall, for example, was looking to regain his agility through the training.

“The biggest reason I was doing it was learning the stance, the movement,” he said. “I’m not so much worried about how to take a hit or how to throw a punch, but I’m trying to learn how to move lightly on my feet again now that I have a prosthetic. I like to think that I used to be pretty quick and agile, and I’d like to get back to that.”

The training is also helping him return to form as a role model for those he will lead.

“It’s helping me get back into physical shape, and being an NCO, you’ve got to lead by example,” Hemwall said. “If you are not in shape, then that’s what your Soldiers will be. Boxing teaches you discipline.”

 

Light at the end of the tunnel

Oftentimes, the most significant injuries participants have to tackle are emotional or psychological, Naranjo said.

“I had one patient who couldn’t walk on what we call shorties — a patient with significant limb loss, we put them on these little stubbies to learn how to walk and we graduate up, up, up,” he said. “For some of them, it’s really difficult to walk around, especially if they used to be 6 feet tall. Well, one patient would never get out of his chair; he would never use his stubbies. But if you don’t learn to use your stubbies, then you won’t be able to develop the core muscles required to walk.

“So we were at this restaurant, and this guy was with his buddies. But the ramp was too narrow for him to get up with his wheelchair. But he saw his buddies — all amputees with prostheses — getting out of their chairs and going up into the restaurant. So this guy had to do it, too. He walked for the first time in public so that he could be with his peers and participate. Long story short, he’s now a Paralympian.”

Sheehi recalled an even more dramatic transformation.

“We had a female Soldier come through here who had been injured about 3 months beforehand. She really just did not want to talk to anybody; she was still in shock,” he said. “When I talked to her, she really didn’t want anything to do with it (boxing). It took a couple times for her to try, but once she did it, she opened up like a flower. Everybody in the entire room could not believe that she was talking, she was having a fun time, she was enjoying herself. This opened her up. She saw light at the end of the tunnel.”

And that’s the whole point of the program, Naranjo said — give recovering Soldiers and NCOs hope that they can do everything and anything again.

“This is as valid a treatment as any other medical discipline that is out there. It’s not all fun and games,” he said. “It lets us assess their full function outside the clinic. How did they navigate the airport? How did they use the restroom? If they were on a bus trip and it only had one of those tiny little bathrooms, how did that quadruple amputee use the restroom? Oh, the baby is crying on the bus and needs a diaper change. Can he change that diaper with one arm? On that bus? So we are assessing their whole ability to function in all those little things that we usually take for granted.”

And though the program is designed to teach independence, it is only together that Soldiers actually heal, Lavery said.

“Nobody’s here to embarrass anybody or beat anybody up,” he said. “It’s about us all getting better and growing both in the sport as well as individual Soldiers.”