ARLINGTON Va, -Would you swim with a whale shark? Or how about a huge manta ray? Eight Soldiers from the Fort Stewart Soldier Recovery Unit did, and they have some serious tales of truth to share.
“I love sea life and to be in that tank seeing a massive manta ray come up to me was breathtaking. It was cool looking out the glass at our cadre smiling and watching us thrive in that environment,” said SFC Bryan Warmack. He entered the Ft Stewart SRU after 18 years of pain from an old combat related injury from an IED explosion that was never addressed properly. After a few surgeries he returned to work but continued with issues. He entered the SRU with the need to recover from a necrosis in his ankle and elbow issues.
Adaptive reconditioning is the name of the game at the Army’s fourteen Soldier Recovery units across the country. All fourteen have different adaptive reconditioning methods and events. Fort Stewart’s SRU decided to dive into the famed GA Aquarium.
“The GA Aquarium has a program for Veterans that works with seen or unseen disabilities. PTSD, anxiety, and physical disabilities that can all be part of the recovery focus,” said Fort Stewart SRU Physical Therapist Dr. Yvonne LaRochelle.
Recognizing how well Soldiers react to activity is key to planning future activity and events according to LaRochelle. “We had a small scuba diving or entry to scuba diving class program and every time we exited the water those who had chronic conditions, low back pain or knee pain they always came out of the water talking about how light they felt and had absolutely no pain.”
Sgt. Kevin Reyes understands how water therapy helps on his road to recovery. On April 10, 2021, while stationed in Belgium as a military police officer, Reyes was in motorcycle accident. He needed surgery on his left elbow, left knee and pelvis plus he sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). He arrived at the Fort Stewart Soldier Recovery Unit August 31, 2021.
“I had no idea that a WTU was for injured soldiers…when I heard Warrior Transition Unit, I thought it was a unit for old guys transitioning out of the army. So glad they changed the name to Army Recovery Care program because that’s exactly what they do and they do it well,” said the avid diver. “I love the water; I grew up in Florida, so water therapy is uplifting for me physically and emotionally.”
Recreational Therapist Ariel Malthrus shared even more uplifting opportunity to recover and overcome for the Soldiers by way of their “lift” on the four-hour journey to the aquarium. “The vehicle ride there and back was the time that we really got to bond and get to know each other more and have really good conversations. It opened doors for more interaction between Soldiers and Cadre and Soldiers with Soldiers.”
The Georgia Aquarium adventure also helped Soldiers communicate better with their loved ones, as Warmack explained, he now had a serious fish tale to tell. “While I was in that tank, all I could think of was how awesome that was and for the next week it gave me a chance to reengage with my kids and my family by talking about my experience.”
Dr. LaRochelle continues to be cheerleader in charge for the Soldiers and the SRU. “The adaptive reconditioning program shows them that you’re not that broken, you still have so much life left in you. It’s like a gate to moving forward and hopefully they realize hey, I’m not done yet.”