Bomb techs enjoy winter reprieve
January 31, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Braving subzero wind chill, 11 explosive ordnance disposal technicians inched their way up the waterfalls near Leadville, skied the peaks of Breckenridge and Keystone and participated in an avalanche training course with the National Ski Patrol as part of the second "Return to Adventure," Jan. 14-17.
"This was an opportunity to challenge these folks," said Alexandra Petze, event coordinator. "They live on adrenaline. I mean, they're the ones walking towards the bomb."
The event began last spring when Col. Leo Bradley, then commander for the 71st Ordnance Group (EOD), suggested bringing wounded bomb techs together for a week of adventure sports.
The techs represented the Army, Air Force and civilian police departments. All had been injured performing their jobs.
"Getting outside for fun is like a breath of fresh air," said Master Sgt. Jason Gerber, operations noncommissioned officer in charge, 242nd EOD Battalion, 71st EOD. "You see these guys starting to come out of their shells."
The bomb techs made adjustments based on their abilities. Some swapped prosthetic feet for custom crampons. Others secured pick axes to their forearms with duct tape. Others mono-skied.
"It was amazing to watch," said Spc. Cort "Worm" Worsham, 62nd Ordnance Company, 242nd EOD. "It was eye-opening to life itself."
Worsham, along with Spc. Tadd Hatch and Staff Sgt. Scott Cotner, 62nd Ord., volunteered to assist throughout the week.
"I saw a guy with one arm get to the top (of the ice climb) when I couldn't make it up," Worsham said.
Hatch said he was impressed with how positive the participants were.
"Some act like nothing even happened to them," he said.
As the three volunteers prepare for an upcoming deployment, they said working with the wounded bomb techs made them less nervous and anxious.
"It makes me want to do my job more," Hatch said.
The four-day event exposed the techs to different activities, but also created a bonding experience.
"We all got to cheer each other on," said Gerber, who was injured in Farah Province, Afghanistan, in 2006.
Michael Mednansky, a retired sergeant first class, said the activities were challenging, but rewarding.
"It was awesome," said Mednansky, who was wounded in 2010 after an improvised explosive device detonated in his hands, resulting in the amputation of three fingers, bone damage and tissue loss. He now works as a curriculum developer for a civilian contractor advising 71st EOD.
"I've been snowboarding since 2006," he said, adding that he missed a couple of seasons due to deployments and recovering from his injuries.
Mednansky said volunteers helped participants make adjustments and adaptations in their skiing and snowboarding, based on their abilities.
"I improved more in those four days than my entire time snowboarding," he said. "This gives us a chance to show we can still do stuff."
Mednansky said that while many wounded servicemembers do not seek the attention and special trips, they are appreciative of the community's generosity.
Members of the community were anxious to lend their support, Petze said. Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center officials housed the participants, offering adaptive skiing and snowboarding lessons. Breckenridge Ski Patrol members lent their expertise by conducting avalanche training. A Denver area prosthetist manufactured ice climbing feet for those with leg amputations to try. Corporate sponsors also contributed, ensuring the week's success.
"The purpose of this event is to celebrate these guys," Petze said. "People came out of the woodwork to help us."
Gerber said he was happy the event was continuing, uniting bomb techs across the country.
"When you get injured, you don't know what tomorrow is going to bring," he said. "(This event) helps you realize it's just like yesterday."