CTSF-based program specialist helps Fort Hood shooting victim roll to recovery
November 5, 2010
- US Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler trains regularly on a specially designed bicycle provided by the R2R organization.
- Shot four times, Zeigler was the most severely wounded of those injured in the Nov. 5, 2009 shooting incident at Fort Hood, Tx.
FORT HOOD, Texas -- Bill Crain, a program specialist with AAI Corporation, remembers the events of Nov. 5, 2009 pretty much like the rest of his co-workers on the campus of the Whitfill Central Technical Facility, or CTSF, - the sirens, the confusion, the shock at the news at what happened only a mile away, and the long wait for the all-clear signal.
Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler, 29, remembers an entirely different scenario. His memories are fraught with images of Fort Hood's Soldier Readiness Processing Center, a man rising and saying "Allahu Akbar", gunfire, blinding flashes of pain, and blood - his own, and lots of it. Ironically, the two men never would have met, had it not been for Zeigler's wounds and Crain's love of bicycling.
For the past month, Crain, who will soon mark his fifth year at the CTSF, has been directly involved in an effort to pair Zeigler, who is still recovering from wounds that probably would have killed him, with a specially-designed bike - an effort that has come to be known as Project Z. Crain took up cycling about a year prior to his arrival at the CTSF as a way of working off the weight he started to gain when he quit smoking.
What was then a simple mode of exercise, has become a lifestyle for the retired Command Sergeant Major. So far this calendar year, Crain has amassed more than 4,500 miles on his lightweight two-wheeler. Some 350 of those miles were racked up when he participated in the week-long Ride 2 Recovery in which able-bodied cyclists participated with recovering wounded warriors in a fund-raising road trip between San Antonio and Arlington in Texas.
Crain got to know John Worden, the man behind the R2R, and Worden got to know that Crain could be considered a reliable contact at Fort Hood.
"The first I knew about Patrick Zeigler," Crain recalled, "was when John Worden sent a message to me, (Lt. Col.) Pat Curran, and (Lt. Col.) Patty Collins that Patrick was here and R2R was building a special bike for him. He wanted us to help get Patrick going on the bike."
Crain said that because Curran and Collins are both active-duty battalion commanders, and because he had a little more time than they do, he took on many of the Project Z duties.
"John (Worden) first asked us to get Patrick fitted for bike shoes," Crain said, "So I set up a date, went over and met him, and took him to (a local bicycle shop) to get fitted."
The Soldier Crain met had been through several near-death experiences since November, 2009. One of the first to be wounded in what has come to be called the Fort Hood Massacre, Zeigler sustained a massive head wound in addition to wounds in his left shoulder, arm, and leg.
He still carries bullet fragments in his head.
In the months before he met Crain, doctors had removed nearly 20 percent of the right side of his brain, and had attempted on several occasions to repair his shattered skull with artificial plates. He has undergone - and continues to undergo - extensive rehabilitation, but has lost the use of his left arm, and is slowly regaining the use of his left leg.
A key element of Project Z, Patrick's bike, was constructed and paid for by the R2R people, taking into consideration Zeigler's injuries.
"I went over to Patrick's house when the bike was delivered, and stood around while (technicians) set the controls up. They taught me how to maintain that specific bike," Crain said.
Zeigler's bike - really a trike - is a three-wheeled, recumbent machine. It is designed so Zeigler can steer it and shift it's high-tech, electronic gearing, with one hand. A long handle extends rearward so accompanying cyclists can assist Zeigler to climb hills.
"I coordinated a ride schedule around my work schedule and Patrick's rehab schedule," Crain said. Crain begins a typical ride with Zeigler at the home where Zeigler lives with his fiancAfAe and caregiver Jessica Hansen in Wainwright Village on Fort Hood. Crain assists Zeigler in donning a custom shoulder brace that goes under his cycling jersey.
Zeigler also wears knee and ankle braces to help him cope with the stresses of cycling. Once on the Project Z bike, Zeigler's left hand is encased in a special glove that is velcroed and then strapped to the left grip on the bike's handlebars. While Zeigler is clipping his right foot into the bike's right pedal, Crain helps him clip in his weakened left foot.
And then they're off.
"The idea was to build up Patrick so he could ride the 14 miles required to ride the Run to Remember," Crain said.
The event, a half marathon, 13 A,A1/2 miles, was conceived as a memorial to the 13 who died during the Fort Hood Massacre. Zeigler's first effort on the Project Z bike took him only seven miles, Crain said.
"But he has the right attitude. Sometimes I have to coach him to push a little harder, but he always wants to go further," Crain said.
Zeigler hit the 14-mile mark well before the Nov. 6 event. Zeigler's, next goal, according to Crain, is to ride a 23-mile favorite local club ride known as the River Road route.
"His ultimate goal though, is to ride in the R2R Texas Challenge in April. That's 355 miles from San Antonio to Arlington. And Crain says he's certain that is one goal Zeigler is sure to reach.