Bill Loyd demonstrates how to pick the basketball up with one hand while playing wheelchair basketball to wounded warrior Spc. Ben Walters. The event was sponsored by the Community Based Warrior Transition Unit (CBWTU) and was held at Kliever Memorial Armory Nov. 17.
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Army’s Wounded Warrior Program held a muster for injured soldiers at Kliever Memorial Armory in Portland, Ore., Nov. 17.
Soldiers from around Oregon, Washington, California, and Nevada participated in a day of “hands-on” training hosted by Oregon Disability Sports—an organization whose mission is to promote recreation and fitness for people with physical disabilities.
The soldiers played a variety of sports designed for paraplegics including wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball and cycling. Although none of the participating soldiers were paralyzed, many worked up a sweat, using the provided wheelchairs, and ended up with sweat staining dark rings on their Army-issue “PT” gear.
“You’ve got to remember that in stand-up ball you run with your legs and shoot with your arms,” said Bill Loyd, a basketball player with Oregon Disability Sports. “For us, we run with our arms and shoot with our arms.”
“They took us to school,” said a wide-eyed Spc. Michelle Siebold, a 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team soldier who returned from Iraq for thyroid surgery.
Sgt. Harold Smith a member of the Community Based Warrior Transition Unit briefs wounded warriors and thanks the paraplegic athletes who took the time to train them following the events at Kliever Memorial Armory Nov. 17.
“This is a gathering of soldiers who are healed enough to return to their communities and continue healing,” said Spc. Ben Walters of the Nevada Army Reserve. “These warriors have faced tremendous challenges and they are (still) able to do great things,” he said.
Program director, Col. Jim Rice, said his staff will support the wounded soldiers for as long as it takes for them to make the transition.
“Everyone in the Army Wounded Warrior Program understands what a huge price our soldiers and families have paid in support of their nation,” Rice said.
In 2007, the U.S. Army expanded the program, allowing more National Guard and Reserve soldiers to recover in their hometowns using community-based Warrior Training Units.
For the soldiers gathered at Kliever Armory, it meant a return to their esprit de corps, and a camaraderie unique to the armed services, according to Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Lamb, an Oregon soldier who suffered a neck injury while deployed to Afghanistan. The injury cost Lamb the use of his right arm for some time.
Lamb said working with other injured soldiers helps everyone involved because all the participants share the common bond of being wounded in action.
“We’re with our fellow soldiers, we’re here to rub shoulders, to support a soldier who is having a particular hard time. Maybe you’ve had an experience that they are going through now—you can help them,” he said.
The program employs three key elements for soldiers, including a squad leader, nurse case manager and primary care physician.
The squad leader leads the soldiers, and the nurse case manager coordinates their care, while the primary care physician oversees the care, which can be complex, given the multiple issues experienced by some soldiers.
This “triad of care” creates the familiar environment of a military unit and surrounds the soldier and family with comprehensive care and support, all focused on the wounded warrior’s sole mission—to heal. These professionals put the soldier first, cut through red tape, and mind the details, according to the Army Warrior Transition Unit’s website.
The Warrior Unit’s First Sergeant, Lynn Hoyt, said it also gives the events are an opportunity for soldiers to stay abreast of other benefits such as TRICARE, and organizations such as the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“This is our opportunity to get together so that we can keep these soldiers informed of their benefits, and they can talk to their case managers, first sergeants and any other members of the command regarding their care,” Hoyt said.
Many of the warriors in transition will not only have the benefit of recovering at home, they'll also be able to use local civilian health care facilities, while remaining under the direct supervision of Army unit leaders and medical case managers, Hoyt added.
And according to Walters, there is the added benefit of teamwork.
“You realize real quickly you’re gonna have to rely on your team to get this done,” he said.
Story and photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson,
Oregon Military Department Public Affairs Office