By Rob McIlvaineNovember 25, 2008
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, Nov. 25, 2008) - "Inclusive Recreation for Wounded Warriors," a first-of-its-kind training program for military recreation managers, will begin in January at Penn State's main campus at University Park, Pa.
"The program will provide the knowledge, tools and resources recreation managers need to integrate active-duty wounded warriors into their existing recreation programs," said Ruth Ann Jackson, executive director of Penn State Hospitality Leadership Institute and co-principal investigator of the project.
"This is huge, ground-breaking stuff," said Kortney Clemons, a former Army medic injured by an improvised explosive device while carrying a fellow Soldier to safety in Baghdad in February 2005.
Clemons, a 2008 graduate of Penn State with a degree in therapeutic recreation and a minor in family studies, currently is in management training with the Paralympic Division of the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"Thanks to the training I received, I'm able to help other wounded warriors as they are discharged from military hospitals out into the real world. Inclusive training for recreation managers is crucial in helping Soldiers make that transition."
After losing his leg, Clemons spent nearly 10 months in rehabilitation at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, but never felt out of place because of all the other injured Soldiers at the hospital.
"When I attended classes at Penn State though, it was a big adjustment getting around with so many young adults who were not injured and didn't understand," Clemons said. "Inclusion recreation became a big issue and helped me get on with life."
Injured military personnel returning from Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 now number more than 65,000. During previous wars, these men and women might have been discharged or retired. Current military policies permit wounded warriors to remain on active duty.
"The need for providing inclusive recreation services for active duty wounded warriors is more important now than ever before," said Tammy Buckley, instructor and certified therapeutic recreation specialist at Penn State University and co-principal investigator.
Prior to joining Penn State, Buckley worked in the areas of stroke, amputation and spinal cord injury. She was instrumental in developing spinal cord injury protocols for therapeutic recreation service delivery in medical rehabilitation while a clinical supervisor at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C.
In her role as project manager on Penn State training projects for the MWR Academy (http://www.mwraonline.com/aboutus.asp), Buckley and her husband, Penn State instructor Ralph Smith, now retired, collaborated with the School of Hospitality Management and Outreach's Management Development Programs and Services to develop a customized four-day prototype course that was presented to the departments of defense and of veterans affairs last autumn.
"Inclusive Training for Wounded Warriors" was greeted with enthusiastic welcome.
Mike DeRose, a recreation specialist at Fort McPherson, Ga., attended the prototype course. He noted how recreation staff at most garrisons are seeing wounded warriors return from the Army's areas of operations, and the need to be prepared to provide recreation support to these Soldiers.
"Most recreation specialists don't have a background in therapeutic recreation, so this training will teach us how to include all of our returning Soldiers in our programs."
Aaron Goodman, director of outdoor recreation at Fort Campbell, Ky., stressed how wounded warrior recreation should not only be provided by the military but also by municipal programs and businesses that offer recreation programs and services in the community.
"We all have a shared interest in wounded warrior recreation since injured or retired service members not only live on base but also out in the community," he said. "Also, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers, once home, may not be near a military base, so it's imperative that their community recreation branch be prepared to offer adaptive options for inclusive recreation and specifically gear programs for them."
Recreation programs improve the state of mind, health and general well-being of wounded warriors, he added.
"These programs allow individuals to have an outlet to share their experiences and emotions in a positive environment," Goodman said. "Families have the opportunity to share in an experience together, some for the first time. This creates a great opportunity for the family to reconnect."
The overall purpose of the course is to train MWR staff on methods for integrating wounded active duty military personnel in existing MWR programs and services through appropriate adaptations and modifications.
"For example," said Buckley, "military personnel with amputations may require different prosthetic feet to rock climb, stabilization straps to lift weights or flotation aids to swim. Those with post-traumatic stress disorder who experience adverse reactions to crowds and loud noises may need recreation activities structured in quieter settings."
The course, aimed at recreation personnel across all branches of service, will increase understanding of the characteristics of various physical and psychological conditions resulting from war. These conditions include PTSD, amputation, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury.
"Additionally, course participants will learn how to modify activities, how to create accessible programs, and learn about recreation-related adaptive and specially designed equipment that may facilitate full engagement in MWR programs and services," Buckley said.
Penn State University is no stranger to adapting recreational programs.
"It might not seem feasible for Penn State's hilly campus, just beginning to get cold and windy, to have so many programs for people with disabilities, but as part of the prototype course, we took all the participants over to Ability Athletics to meet a coach who has trained some of the finest athletes with disabilities in the country," Buckley said.
Teri Jordan, disability recreation programs coordinator at Penn State Ability Athletics, has been taking students with disabilities through the paces in wheelchair basketball, swimming programs, and weightlifting for people who use wheelchairs and those with other varying disabilities.
"We call it Ability Athletics because we don't want to focus on what you don't have, we want to focus on what you do have," Jordan said.
The move from coaching college track to Paralympic athletics has given Jordan the opportunity to utilize her biomechanics and adaptive physical education degree from the University of Kansas.
A world record holder in the 10-mile run and a national record holder at 5,000 meters before coaching women's World Championship athletics teams in 1995 and 1999, Jordan has trained some of the finest athletes with disabilities in the country.
"I got distracted for 23 years coaching college track," she said, "but that led me to be a better coach for these athletes."
Her experience and accomplishments reflect the caliber of program she started at Penn State and the dedication she has toward enhancing the program in the future.
But "Inclusive Recreation for Wounded Warriors" is not just about physical disabilities.
Being able to recognize who is experiencing stigma or stereotyping which can be associated with physical or mental disabilities and including them their friends and family in the healthy pursuit of recreation is another aspect of the training.
Ralph Smith knows something about the stigma of war-related injury.
A Professor Emeritus and certified therapeutic recreation specialist, Smith specializes in inclusive programming for individuals with disabilities, attitudes toward disabilities and disability adjustment.
"This prototype and initial training is just scratching the surface of what needs to be done and how far we need to go," Smith said.
Medically retired from the U.S. Army because of combat wounds he received while serving with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, Smith has an even longer experience of helping those with disabilities.
"My interest preceded my injury," explained Smith. "I enjoyed working with children with disabilities at summer camp while I attended college and decided to sign up for a master's program at the University of Illinois when the Army drafted me."
Besides earning his doctorate in therapeutic recreation at Penn State where he taught until his retirement this year, Smith also spent 30 years with the National Wheelchair Basketball Association and was inducted into its hall of fame in 1995.
"Further implications for inclusive programming rest with the 40% (and rising) Operation Iraqi Freedom personnel who have or may acquire PTSD," Buckley said. "This coupled with the knowledge that the incidence of PTSD increases with the number of deployments highlights the need to pay particular attention to those returning personnel who may be exhibiting signs of PTSD."
Given that PTSD sometimes goes unreported by returning personnel, the need for MWR personnel to be able to recognize the signs of PTSD and respond appropriately is imperative.
Although this course at Penn State might be scratching the surface, it's already causing ripples throughout the recreation community.
"Following the Inclusive Recreation Training prototype course at Penn State," Goodman said, "I gained a better understanding of the entire picture on inclusive recreation. As a result, I'm working on developing a global communications network for military inclusive recreation so we can connect everyone on inclusive recreation programs for injured servicemembers and their families.
"We have many people out there doing great things for injured service members and their families and many others who want to get involved. This network will give folks the chance to share programs and ideas, as well as help others start programs or answer questions," Goodman said.
Active participation in MWR services can benefit the wounded warrior by promoting psychological health and wellness and increasing combat readiness. It also reduces incidents of suicide and destructive behaviors associated with PTSD such as substance abuse and secondary problems, such as domestic violence, social isolation and depression.
"Many wounded warriors want to go back to enjoying the sport or activity they did before they were wounded and if this is not possible, then they try to explore possibilities that might be a good substitute," Buckley said.
This is where the recreational professional can also help out.
"Inclusive Training for Wounded Warriors" also complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and supports the president's commitment to provide premiere care to military personnel and veterans.
"Many MWR recreation managers at military installations lacked the necessary training regarding disability and approaches to including wounded warriors in existing MWR programs and services," Buckley said.
"Because MWR professionals are in a unique position to assist with readjustment to community life on the installation, it's important they're able to recognize the unique needs of military personnel with war related injuries, and be able to take the initiative to assist wounded warriors with healthy reintegration into daily community and family life."
"The Army has been very receptive and tremendous in working with us. Their willingness to partner with Penn State has made this a seamless partnership and can only benefit our wounded warriors, their families and friends and the DOD," Jackson said.
These four-day classes are designed to train assistant managers, managers, recreation division chiefs and other support personnel in the MWR Recreation arena.
Through a variety of small group work, guest speakers, instruction, assigned readings, multi-media and hands-on activities, students will learn how to successfully adapt, design and/or modify their recreation programs in order to promote greater inclusion and participation of wounded warriors.
Students will also develop an "Inclusion Action Plan" to implement upon return to their installations.
(Rob McIlvaine serves with FMWRC Public Affairs.)