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NEWS | March 7, 2024

Take advantage of the SRU, don’t be too big for it!

By MaryThrerese Griffin Army Recovery Care Program

Captain Nathan Degen has had his share of injuries over the years as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot for the Army. He would fix himself up, get back in the game, and keep going until he couldn’t anymore. “When I was in Japan last year, I ripped my ACL, MCL, LCL, and meniscus. I had that surgery, and then they put me in to go to the SRU (Soldier Recovery Unit).”

It was becoming increasingly difficult for Degen to fly, so he went to the Fort Belvoir SRU on July 5, 2023. “I couldn’t manipulate the flight controls consistently like I should due to limited mobility. All of our power is upfront and up top, and there's a bunch of circuit breakers behind us that I just can’t get to. I can’t hold what’s called the collective on the left side; I can't maintain that strength in holding it.”

He initially injured his knees and shoulder on a previous deployment to Afghanistan and kept working through the issues. He says he was familiar with the SRU but never thought he would need one himself. “We sent another pilot who ripped up his leg pretty bad to an SRU, so I heard of it.”

His road to recovery includes a medical retirement at the end of this year, which he says is bittersweet. “I entered the Army thinking I would do twenty, which is why I chose aviation because flying for twenty years would be pretty cool.”

The married father of a two-year-old son with a daughter on the way this June says there are many upsides to his recovery. “The SRU, whether it’s the TC (Transition Coordinator), the RTs (Recreational Therapists), or the commander, the support they’ve given to us has been phenomenal.”

Through his treatment and therapy, Degen shares with other Soldiers who may one day need the SRU. “Take advantage don’t be too big for it. What I mean is don’t let your mind tell you that you are too prideful to say I am good enough, and I have to keep pushing. Take the time to rest yourself and take that step back because when you get here, the opportunities are there, the recovery is great, and the attention you are going to get to focus on you is awesome. You don’t see care in the Army anywhere like here.”

As part of his recovery, Degen is involved in adaptive sports and is competing this week for a spot on Team Army at the 2024 Army Trials at Fort Liberty, North Carolina. “My pride is strong; I love being part of a team. I want to show there are steps in recovery to get through and you can do it!”

He competed in discus, shotput, archery, shooting, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, wheelchair rugby, and rowing. His experience in adaptive sports, as well as working on programs to set him up for success after the Army by the Fort Belvoir SRU, gave him a new flight pattern to navigate. “I want to work in the sports industry when I retire. The SRU is helping me with career opportunities. It’s time to funnel it down to find the right spot.”

His time at the Fort Belvoir SRU is the right spot for right now as he can be with his family who lives close by, and he can have a work-life balance he says is difficult for pilots who are gone all the time. “My wife Katlyn is used to me being gone a lot, so this is great to be home recovering and helping! She’s an amazing mother and amazing wife and holds the fort down at home when I am gone.”