Iraq, Afghanistan Vets Find Healing in Helping Wounded Warriors
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., Mar. 29, 2012 Five years after suffering a traumatic brain injury in combat, Chris Carver is among a growing legion of veterans from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan who have discovered the healing power of helping other wounded warriors on their road to recovery.
Chris Carver, an Army veteran who suffered a traumatic brain injury following an improvised explosive device attack in Iraq, gets tips to help him navigate Snowmass Mountain on a snowboard from volunteer adaptive ski instructor Matt Gualtieri. Carver says sharing adaptive sports with other disabled veterans has been a key to his recuperation. DOD photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Shortly after deploying to Iraq for the second time with the 25th Infantry Division, Carver’s patrol was hit by an improvised explosive device. He spent two months in a coma, and still experiences short-term memory loss that requires him to use a handheld electronic device to keep his daily schedule on track.
But Carver isn’t one to dwell on the negatives. “I’ve made a lot of progress,” he said. And he has found a new life’s calling in the process.
Carver called the adaptive sports he’s been introduced to through the Veterans Affairs Department one of the biggest factors in his recovery. “I’ve had all kinds of therapies,” he said. “But sports have been the most worthwhile. Activities give you something to look forward to and make you want to advance.”
Now medically retired, Carver has committed himself to helping other disabled veterans experience that same healing power. He’s studying at Eastern Washington University to become a social worker and dreams of helping veterans transition to civilian life and realize their potential.
In addition, he’s a team leader for Team River Runner, a national organization that introduces wounded veterans to adaptive kayaking.
As one of 400 participants this week here at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, Carver said he’s already learned new techniques here that will make him a better instructor when he returns home to Spokane, Wash. “That’s one of my main focuses,” he said. “I want to be able to take something back to the community.”
Carver said he’s discovered through his work with wounded warriors and disabled veterans that “helping others is also about helping you.”
“Just knowing that you made a difference in someone else’s life is making a difference in yours,” he said.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Anthony Yanez is among the more recently wounded combat veterans who said he plans to take the lessons he’s learning about the healing benefits of recreational therapy to pass on to other veterans.
Yanez’s life changed forever on July 21, 2010, when an IED attack in Afghanistan’s Helmand province rendered him a quadriplegic. The blast occurred exactly two years after Yanez entered boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., and four months after he and his wife, Katreece, celebrated their son’s birth.
But at 22, now medically retired from the Marine Corps, he refuses to let his disability get him down, or keep him down. He’s making plans to attend college beginning this fall to study nutrition and fitness and has started taking part in various VA-sponsored sporting events for disabled veterans.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” he said after skiing down Snowmass Mountain in an adaptive bucket ski and snowmobiling at the T Lazy 7 Ranch in nearby Aspen Highlands. “It motivates me and lets me keep on moving and doing.”
Yanez said he’s anxious to share his experiences with other disabled veterans after he returns home. “When I tell them what I’ve been able to see and experience, I can pass on to them: ‘Don’t just sit there. Get out and be as active as you can be.’”