By Spc. James TamezAugust 13, 2010
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - During the 31st annual U.S. Senior Open July 26 to Aug. 1, professional golfers and host Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish honored service members and their families and held a special clinic for wounded warriors.
D. A. Weibring, a five-time winner on the Champions Tour, led the event, which featured three U.S. Army Soldiers and one British soldier, all wounded in combat.
"I think the motivation for (United States Golf Association) and (professional golfer) Ken Still and the club here at Sahalee was to pay respect," Weibring said. "(They) invited some of the wounded warriors out to show that they are living their lives and competing and doing athletic endeavors."
Weibring added that the clinic was held to show support, encouragement and to say thank you. Others felt the same.
"I've played on Tour and in the Ryder Cup, but this is the most satisfying thing I've done in golf: giving lessons and clinics at a course for veterans," said Ken Still, American Lake Golf Course and 1969 Ryder Cup team member, in an article for Golf.com.
Still added that watching them, despite their combat injuries, "be able to hit balls is a treat."
The warriors, whose wounds ranged from traumatic brain injuries to double amputations, took a few swings with the encouragement of a supportive crowd. Specialist Michael Ballard, a Soldier with the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, received an overwhelming ovation from spectators as he hit a drive beyond 300 yards.
"It was unbelievable," Ballard said. "I had to take a really deep breath and pretend like nobody was there. I wouldn't have missed this for anything."
Ballard, injured on a mission in Afghanistan, said that the clinic and the rest of the day's festivities were very enjoyable and provided him with the opportunity to meet and get autographs from Senior PGA golfers.
Lieutenant Colonel Danny Dudek, commander, Warrior Transition Battalion, said these types of opportunities are, in many cases, just what the doctor ordered for wounded warriors.
Dudek, injured by an IED explosion in Iraq in 2007, walks with the aid of braces strapped to his arms. Even with his injury, he leads by continuing as much of his pre-injury life as possible.
"I talk to my battalion and the Soldiers often about distraction being the best medicine," Dudek said. "A lot of us are dealing with chronic pain. A lot of us deal with depression or anxiety or behavioral health issues. Being able to get outside and do the things you used to be able to do in whatever capacity - maybe not as good as you did before - but if you can find something you enjoy, find a sport that you can really immerse yourself into, you'll find that you're not having as much pain."
Golf provides that distraction for Dudek.
"Hopefully, golf can be a game for a lifetime," Weibring said. "If they haven't tried it, these guys today proved they obviously have a disability, they have a physical challenge, but they found a way around it. I encourage them to not have limitations. Step out and try new things. Live and enjoy your life."
This assistance offered to wounded warriors by different organizations throughout the Seattle area helps in their recovery, Dudek said.
"It's just phenomenal the support that we get," Dudek said. "They have been there every step of the way, and I just want to say thank you."
Colonel Thomas H. Brittain, JBLM commander, addressing a crowd of more than 200 spectators at the clinic, told of the work being done on the installaion to support wounded warriors.
"On behalf of the I Corps commander, Major General Johnson, and the 40,000 service members (who) represent Joint Base Lewis-McChord, I would like to thank each and every one of you for being here and showing your appreciation for service members and, specifically, the wounded warriors," Brittain said.
Brittain said that a $52 million complex being built near Madigan Army Medical Center will add capabilities and resources for wounded warriors.
"Many of them continue to wear a uniform, as you see by these heroes here," Brittain said. "And many of them transition to civilian life, which is a critical part, because in any aspect, they continue to give to our nation."
"We can't say thank you enough for the protection and the freedom that we live under," Weibring said. "It should never be taken for granted."
Spc. James Tamez is assigned to 19th Public Affairs Detachment. This story appeared in Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.