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NEWS | March 31, 2023

Evolution of wounded warriors

By Robert Whetstone Army

North Carolina (March 31, 2023) -- At the height of the global war on terrorism, many U.S. service members suffered very visible, life-changing, physical combat wounds and injuries. Since the end of the wars, the majority of new wounded warriors now suffer ‘wounds’ that are not obvious to the naked eye.

Over 70 Soldiers fighting a war against unseen wounds, injuries, and illnesses are participating in the Army Recovery Care Program’s Adaptive Sports Camp, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, March 28 – April 5, 2023. The Army is hosting the camp as a qualifying trial for active-duty participants to assess and select athletes for competition in the Warrior Games Challenge. The Warrior Games Challenge takes place June 2023 at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California.

In the past, many Soldier-athletes were recovering from noticeable physical combat wounds. At the same time, they were dealing with conditions like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. PTSD and TBI did not receive the same attention as a lost limb or burn injury. However, as the years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came to a close, the military began a full-court press on behavioral health that has benefitted many wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers, to include the overall military population.

Soldier Recovery Units are using adaptive reconditioning as one method to help this new era of wounded warriors recover and overcome life-altering medical issues like cancer, spinal conditions, reconstructive knee surgeries, etc., and the emotional stress and anxiety that comes with them.

“My injury is a little different because it was behavioral health related, said U.S. Army Spc. Gabrielle Cales, from the Fort Campbell, Georgia SRU. “A lot of personal problems came up and between that and getting ready to deploy, I just mentally got to my lowest point of life.” When she got to the SRU Cales said she was welcomed with open arms. “I immediately had that support system; that care and love I wasn’t receiving before. They (cadre) made me realize the life I’m living, is worth living,” she explained.

Over 40% of Soldiers assigned to an SRU have returned to duty. They go back to their units as someone who has proven the Army cares about every member in its ranks. They often jump at the chance to tell others about their journey and how proud they are to serve. U.S. Army Spc. Chad Krantz talked about how essential the Fort Riley, Kansas SRU has been during his ongoing recovery.

“I went through a pretty rough phase after my injuries, said Krantz. “I have a wife and four daughters that depend on me, and I didn’t know what to do after my injuries. I didn’t know what I was going to do to support them. I felt lost. The SRU has helped me build myself back up, brought me motivation, and helped me get back to a better physical and mental state. They helped remind me that there’s more to life than what’s going on the outside and to keep moving forward.”

Adaptive sporting events like these showcase the resiliency and dedication of wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers.

Cales likes the mindset of the Army’s new brand of ‘Be all you can be.’ “It might help with recruiting efforts,” she said. You come in (the Army) and do everything you can do because everyone comes in at different levels.

This training camp provides an opportunity for the Army to raise awareness about the resources available for wounded, ill and injured Soldiers, their families and caregivers.

Cales feels like her SRU is helping her to be all she can be. “A good example would be this camp,” she added. Staff at the Fort Campbell SRU saw potential in her and persuaded her to try it. With a background in powerlifting that included a trip to national level competition, she jumped at the chance. “They (staff) said you’re going to fall in love with the gym again and find that passion. I feel like I’ve gained a part of myself back.”