FALLS CHURCH Va.- Army Sgt. Ethan Barrera, a generator mechanic, never thought the last two years of his life would be spent in recovery.
“I got hit by a car last year on March 23, 2022, and had several surgeries, 10 to be exact, to keep my left arm. Several months later, I was deployed to Iraq and suffered a TBI from a fall.”
In December of 2022, he was sent to the Fort Campbell Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU), where he was not exactly the poster child for joy when he arrived. “I had no clue what the SRU had to offer, and I didn’t care. I was confused about why I was there. I didn’t want to be there. I thought it was for Soldiers, who were more beat up and wounded than me.”
He knows he is exactly where he is supposed to be, but he says it took dedicated folks in the SRU to help him see the light. “Robyn Womack is phenomenal! We butted heads in the beginning because, as the AR Coordinator, she was trying to get me involved in the adaptive reconditioning program. I wanted nothing to do with it, but she kept encouraging me. She finally made me realize I want to get my mind rolling and do things again.”
And by rolling, he means cycling. Not just any cycling, either. He had to learn to do this new thing differently and adapt.
“I’ve learned cycling is very therapeutic. I love it, and it’s my favorite sport, and I am on a recumbent bike. I was hesitant in the beginning and didn’t enjoy it. Robin always joked by saying you have another gear in you, and then you take off…the Ethan gear, the one past the highest on the bike.”
Barrera's recovery didn’t just stop with cycling. He admits he was slow rolling and resistant to the notion of anything else the SRU had to offer, again because he didn’t think it was for him. “I wasn’t a fan of the adaptive reconditioning at first because I thought it was not beneficial. As I started to do more stuff and get involved, I realized how therapeutic it was and how much I could do. Since my accident, a lot’s been taken from me as far as my physical abilities and my military career,” said Barrera.
He will have another surgery soon and doesn’t know if he will return to duty, but he does know he is ready to face his future, whatever it may be.
“This program has changed how I deal with my situation mentally and physically these past months at the SRU.”
Barrera is set on making team Army in the Spring and is training in cycling, archery, and indoor rowing. He had an interesting perspective on adaptive sports he wanted to share. “Many people don’t understand that adaptive sports is not just about the sport. I was told by doctors you’re never going to use your hand again. Reconditioning and adapting to different ways to function in a new life is more than just a sport.”
Sgt Barrera also now knows the SRU is for more than Soldiers injured in a combat zone. He wants others to embrace the program should they need it. "I’m happy for the experience and the program itself. It truly is what you get out of it. Whether you stay in or medically separate, you need to find out about all the benefits available to you, and there are many. All of them will help you succeed when you eventually get out of the Army, so take advantage.”