Fort Lee officers volunteer for wheelchair games
July 5, 2012
RICHMOND -- Fourteen Army officers from Fort Lee's Command and General Staff College Intermediate Level Education satellite course took learning outside of the classroom June 25-30 while volunteering at the 32nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games here.
Sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the games featured different competitive sports including air guns, track and field, basketball, wheelchair slalom and at least 14 other activities.
Majors from the three-month ILE Staff Group C class joined hands to assist veterans competing in the air gun competition. From helping out on the firing line to making minor air gun repairs, the students said they enjoyed their experience and learned a lot during the event.
Maj. Janell Pulido, a class member from Bethesda, Md.'s Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where she serves as an Army nurse, said she feels community service is personally enriching. While sharing her time, she gained much more in return.
"It was a fun and rewarding learning experience," said Pulido. "As a veteran myself, interacting with other veterans is a special time because we share a connection that other people cannot understand."
The students met past warriors like Craig Carpenter who is no stranger to the annual wheelchair games or the military. Since serving as an Army medic in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and in Somalia, the wounded veteran has added something else to his long history of military roles -- service advocate.
"I feel like I'm an advocate for my disabled family," said Carpenter, who has competed in the wheelchair games for the past five years and won first place in bowling last week. Alluding to the 500-plus National Veterans Wheelchair Games athletes participating this year, Carpenter said he feels people should experience the power of the games first-hand. The group of veterans represents some of America's top disabled athletes.
"A lot of times you can't truly experience this environment unless you see it for yourself," said Carpenter. "Even though we have different branches of service, everyone is represented here. You're here, and you're a family."
Maj. John Kimball agreed that the warm interaction with competitors was the best part of his experience. The armor officer from Fort Hood, Texas, helped competitors load air guns, locate target impacts and update scorecards. It was an opportunity that "inspired" him.
"I truly left the event humbled and extremely proud knowing we have such great people representing this great country," Kimball said. "I left the event with tears in my eyes, pride in my heart, and a plan in my head of how to contribute more the next time."
It was an eye-opening experience as well for first-time PVA volunteers Maj. George Zeckler, a medical service corps officer, and Maj. Elliott Bird, an engineer. The students said it was great to get out into the community to lend a hand while in town for ILE.
"The wheelchair games gave me a chance to interact with disabled veterans from all over the U.S., as well as work with other volunteers from the local area," said Bird, a Salt Lake City native.
"It's great because it provides a perspective and insight as to why we serve our country," said Zeckler, who added that he's now motivated to volunteer in the Washington, D.C., area where he is studying clinical psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
Recalling a quote from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who said that "old soldiers never die; they just fade away," Carpenter said volunteers like the ILE students show that veterans are not forgotten.
"Everybody has a story to tell," said Carpenter, an active member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. "We are all human. If you approach it from that basic level, you are ahead of the game."
While wheelchair-bound veterans can still do most of the things an able-bodied person can do, there are struggles, Carpenter noted.
"But we refuse to let it defeat us," he said. "If I can approach someone to say this is who we are and this is what we do and tell you my story, others will gain a further insight into what disabled individuals can do."
For more information about the 2012 National Veterans Wheelchair Games, visit www.wheelchairgames.va.gov. Individuals who want to find other ways to get involved in their community can contact the Army Community Service volunteer coordinator at (804) 734-6388 for more information about community support opportunities in and around the Fort Lee area.