FORT BELVOIR Va.- Like many Soldiers before him, 1st Lt. Matthew Hovey never wanted to leave his unit, but an injury from a deployment in 2022 to the Middle East made it difficult. Also, like many Soldiers before him, he wanted to see the mission through because, as he says, it's not all about him, so he sucked it up and did self-care.
“If I were out, my whole team would have to be out. Those that were in my position would have had no days off. With me down that would have put a lot on the guys for the rest of the deployment.” Hovey had a neck injury from combatives working with NATO Forces. “ It was almost immediate- there was a pop. I knew something had happened, so I immediately had an MRI and went to therapy.”
The Field Artillery Officer did as much on his own as he could. “I got a neck brace to sleep in to stay still for the rest of the deployment because if I didn’t, I would have nerve pain shooting from my neck down my arm. I did what I had to do.” He was in a sling during work, received shots and acupuncture through the rest of his 9-month deployment, and was eventually sent to the Fort Belvoir Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in December 2022.
“Coming back from a deployment, I wanted to get on with my life.” Before deployment, the Virginia National Guardsman was a project manager for a construction company. It's hard to go back into construction when you have compression on your spinal column, so he said the SRU seemed like a great option and realized how great it was immediately.
“I would not have been able to take the time to take care of myself had it not been for the SRU. I want to build a family, advance my career, and have a great life, but taking care of physical injuries on my own would have been difficult,” said Hovey.
They found through an EMG he had a double crush as well, so he had three surgeries fusing discs C-5 through C7. Now, the 1st Lieutenant who was used to leading and taking care of others, had to focus on taking care of himself.
“I had to wrestle with the notion that this is my only job now. I mean, I was coming back from 24-hour operations, but now, my job is to make my appointments and to get better. It gives me chills to think about. You go from a high tempo where you are so focused on your team and the mission, and now I have to focus on just myself.”
While healing, he learned to recover with adaptive sports. He seriously had to adapt due to his injury. He came to the recent wheelchair rugby camp at Ft Belvoir to observe as he hasn’t been released just yet from his last neck surgery. He went to watch, listen, and learn the safety aspects of a sport he wants to play… on Team Army!! He wants to compete in a few weeks to be on Team Army, a notion that entered his brain at the Ft Belvoir SRU.
“I wrestled in high school, ran track, and played soccer. It’s surreal to think about. It’s given me a five-meter alligator to tackle. Having a big keg of “get better” was hard to grasp, but then, through the AR program, counselors Patty and Hannah said, " Hey, do you want to try out for Warrior Games? The athlete in me thought, heck, yes, I can do that! The competitor side of me kicked in, and it's gotten me out more now that I have training in adaptive sports with a goal of making Team Army. I can work toward these targets to get better and still serve the Army.”
Recognizing the impact the SRU can have, Hovey said Soldiers have a responsibility to make it a success.
“Get out of your room and make the most of it. There are so many resources available to you. Try something new; you might surprise yourself.