ARLINGTON, Va. — There's just something about putting a seed into the ground and watching it grow. It has a way of connecting you with the Earth in a deep sense, and Soldiers at the Fort Bragg Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in North Carolina have found it to be a unique and useful form of therapy.
The SRU has been running a gardening program for recovering Soldiers, and they're gearing up for a busy spring and summer planting season. Even now, some Soldiers are growing winter vegetables like broccoli and collard greens. But the warmer months are when many more Soldiers start getting involved in gardening.
Gardening is a great option for individuals who may not be at a point in their recovery process where they're ready to connect with other people, said Andy Masullo, master resilience trainer and performance expert at the SRU. He organized the gardening program because of the unique sort of therapy it provides.
"It appealed to me because the connection you get isn't dependent on connecting with another person," he said. "The Soldier may not be looking to do that just yet, but they can connect with the Earth and the vegetables they're growing. That's something anyone can understand."
He's seen the program's impact on Soldiers: they put something in the ground and each day they're waking up and wondering what grew today. It’s a healthy way to refocus one’s mind on something relaxing.
"I've had a lot of Soldiers say that this is therapeutic for them — connecting with the Earth in this way," Masullo said. "There's so much depth to it. There's so much to know. So if you're in a time where you're recovering from injury and you have a lot of time on your hands, this is a great thing to get into."
At the program's height, there are 10 to 12 members of the SRU coming in regularly to garden, and they have about 50 square feet of space to work with. And the food doesn't go to waste: the SRU staff and Soldiers both enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of their labor.
It's another example of an SRU recognizing the therapeutic benefits of gardening. There's a gardening program at the Fort Benning SRU in Georgia, and also one at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas.
Dean Bissey, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the SRU, said they've even enlisted the help of a master gardener from the area. She comes in once per week to provide classes to the Soldiers and check on the garden to give advice on what the plants need and how to properly take care of them.
The program has been going on for a while now, but last summer the SRU gave it a boost by replacing the decaying planter boxes with brand new ones.
"[SRU staff] got together and, with a whole bunch of lumber and sweat and effort, put together those new planters," Bissey said. "They'll probably be around for the next couple of years."
Things have slowed down because winter vegetables don't need a lot of care. But once the spring rolls around, Bissey expects things to pick up significantly as the Soldiers look forward to growing tomatoes and cucumbers and many other types of plants that everyone looks forward to when the temperature starts rising.
No matter the time of year, the gardening program is an important part of the SRU.
"It's so relaxing and peaceful," Bissey said.
The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers. Visit our website at https://arcp.army.mil