FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Dec. 22, 2011) -- "Cupcakes change lives," said Spc. Brad Vineyard, as he tried to remember a quote from his teenage niece.

The Soldier found out later his niece actually said "Cupcakes can change your day."

The conversation be-tween Vineyard and his niece came about after she learned he had taken up baking more often since being medically evacuated from Afghanistan. In addition to telling him her thoughts on cupcakes, she wanted to know if he was going to bake anything for the Family whenever he came home. The intent of her quote was that something as simple as a cupcake can change someone's entire day.

It is a philosophy that has found its way into Vineyard's recovery after having surgery on his knee and being treated for a traumatic brain injury after the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle he was the gunner for was hit with an improvised explosive device. It is something that also helps his fellow Soldiers assigned to Fort Campbell's Wounded Warrior Transition Battalion.

Sometimes just listening can make the difference in someone's day, especially when you know they can relate to what you are going through.

"I think it was maybe three or four months ago I was back in the Warrior Transition Battalion and I happened to come in contact with a Soldier that had a lot of the same issues I did," said Vineyard. "I asked him what was going on and he kind of confided some things in me. By the time he was done, he felt a lot better and I felt better because I was able to help him out."

The conversation with a fellow Wounded Warrior resulted in Vineyard realizing a set direction he plans to head in after getting out of the Army. He had an idea before, but he just wasn't completely sure.

"It was at that point I had an epiphany that social work is what I want to do when I get out," said Vineyard. "I'm enrolling in college. I'm going to get a degree in social work and work for [the Department of Veteran Affairs] and try to work with Soldiers with [post traumatic stress disorder] and readjustment issues whenever I get out."

Vineyard has been through months of treatment during his time with the TBI clinic and the WTB. He still has issues with things like his memory, getting lost, crowds and more, but he knows how to use what he has learned to keep those issues to a minimum or what to do when a problem arises. He has found that in addition to what he has learned and being around others with similar situations, hobbies like baking and learning to play the guitar help him a great deal. They help him to focus and calm him and he is able to share his hobbies with others.

"It keeps me focused on what I'm doing and then when I'm done it gives me a sense of accomplishment and I don't eat it all myself," Vineyard said about baking. "I have to sit down and really look at the recipe [and] write down everything that I need. [Shopping] takes me a while to do, too…but if I have a list it's not too bad, otherwise I'll wander through the store."

Leah Gates, a certified occupational therapy assistant with the TBI clinic, explained activities like baking can help Soldiers suffering from a TBI in many ways.

"In TBI rehabilitation, hobbies such as playing the guitar and cooking help service members to have a positive outlook on life," said Gates. "These activities are self-affirming and promote socialization and increased confidence. Skills acquired from these activities translate to other aspects of life, including planning, home management, multi-tasking, problem solving, relaxation, memory and organization."

Gates and the other medical professionals who work with Soldiers like Vineyard are happy to help service members recover and improve their quality of life, no matter if it is going to be in the military or civilian world.

"We are enthusiastic about assisting these Soldiers to re-engage and function within their 'new normal'," said Gates. "We are happy to see Soldiers benefit from therapy and move on to live happy, full and productive lives whether in the military or not."

For Vineyard, he is taking the positive outlook he has gained from his time with the WTB and the TBI clinic to find a new direction and meaning to life. He plans to do what he can to help his fellow Soldiers with his time left in the Army - he'd like to start a peer-to-peer counseling program while still at Fort Campbell - and to continue looking out for his brothers and sisters in arms once he leaves.

"It's going to be really hard for me to leave the Army," said Vineyard. "Not because I love the Army, but because I love the Soldiers. [Social work] will allow me to still work with Soldiers and be around them and help them."

Editor's note -- This is the fifth and final story in a series on TBI.

Page last updated Wed December 28th, 2011 at 00:00