Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wounded Warrior Awesome

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."      
~George Orwell

Last week, I had the distinct honor, privilege, and pleasure to be a part of Project Odyssey.  Project Odyssey is a combat stress recovery program, sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project.  Through my volunteer work with Give an Hour, I was invited to be the mental health contact person for this 3-day retreat in Windham, New York. 

Some things that you should know:

This is Shelby.  She's a Great Dane.  She's also a service dog (awesome!).  I do not do big dogs.  I got to drive from the airport with her in the car.  I was terrified.  She is the biggest, sweetest, drooliest dog I have ever encountered.

We were fortunate enough to be partnered with Adaptive Sports Foundation on Windham Mountain.  They specialize in skiing and snowboarding for those with disabilities.  This picture is of a mono-ski (or a "sit ski").  It's like a chair with a ski on the bottom.  The skiier has poles with skis on the bottom.  A-MAY-ZING.

This is Pam Greene.  She's the program director at ASF.  She was also suckered into assigned to those of us who have never skiied before.  On the first day, Pam asked what other sports we do, trying to find a connection to the skills you need for skiing.  I said, "I like to do crafts."  She didn't seem impressed.

Indiana is relatively flat.  And, alas, I have not ever skiied before.  So, despite the fact that Adam downloaded the Army's "tactical skiing manual," I was not prepared.  This is the view up from Wooley Bear, the bunny slope that I was relegated to for 1.5 days.  The other two guys who started in the same group that I did were far better than I was, so they got to move on after the first morning.  Sigh.  I was, by far, the worst.

This is me at the end of the first day.  If you look closely, you will see that I have (minor) scrapes on both elbows, as a result of the scrapey fake snow.  You also may notice that I'm soaking wet.  I'd like to say that there is some badass reason for this, but I really just fell off the "Magic Carpet" into a giant dirty puddle of water.  If it looks like I'm cold, I'm not.  It was 65 degrees...perfect weather for skiing.  At the end of this day, I texted Adam the following:

"I am scraped and bloody and wet because I fell in a puddle.  But I am happy." 

Fortunately, when I fell off the "Magic Carpet" the second time, there was no water involved. 
Just a loss of dignity.  It was videotaped.  Shame.

This is me by the end of the second day.  I wish you could see how incredibly high up we are.  On the chair lift over, I told Pam, "This is nauseating.  Nauseatingly beautiful."  This is Joe.  He started out in my group on the first day, but graduated because he was awesome and didn't fall down all the time in water.  But he took some time out of his awesome skiing to take a photo with me and Pam.

The view from the big mountain.  Once I graduated from Wooley Bear, I got to slide ski down What's Next?.  Look at that view!

This is Chad (left) and Carson (right).  Carson was the Instructor and Chad was the First-Time Snowboarder Warrior.  These two were amazing to watch.  At one point, they even did a tandom "pond skim" where they rode their snowboards over this pretty big little pond.  When I say that the people at Adaptive Sports Foundation were amazing...I mean it!  They have some of the best volunteers that I have ever seen!  Thanks, Carson!

Halfway down What's Next?.  Pam basically held my hand and let me crash into her for 2 straight days.  And I slid on my back for a really far distance right after I took this picture. 

(from left):  Claude, Carson, Joe, Me, Chad, Pam, Bob, and Peter

Peter is bad because he took the video of me falling off the "Magic Carpet" the first day.  No, really, he was just another amazing volunteer.  Who gave up his first college Spring Break to hang with us.  I told you--these folks went above and beyond to help out our group.

All fun aside, I cannot ignore the real reason I was there.  I was there because war is messy business.  War is ugly.  War is terrifying beyond anything I can imagine.  We cannot be ignorant to the fact that thousands of men and women are returning to their homes, families, and lives--changed forever.  It's not really about whether or not you support the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It's about people doing a job for our government in order to keep us safe. 

I look at each of these men and think What if this were my husband?  There are not a lot of things that I'm good at...skiing being at the top of that list!  But I am damned good at my job, and I love my husband.  And that's why I volunteer with the Wounded Warrior Project.  That's why I do this.

And so I say thank you.  Words that seem so small for a sacrifice so large.  So empty.  So not enough for all that my heart wants to say.

So thank you.  For your sacrifice.  Your honor.  Your bravery.  Your courage.  Your all.

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